Talking Pictures | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Talking Pictures

A Little Lake production never gets below the pleasant surface of Horton Foote's play

Here it is summertime, and to mark the season, Little Lake Theatre is serving up a big, swollen piece of Americana: Horton Foote's Talking Pictures.

Myra Tolliver is a woman with a whole host of problems. She plays piano at the local silent-picture show in a small Texas town, but the year is 1929 and silent movies are about to go the way of the dodo. As a grass widow (deserted wife), she worries how she'll continue to care for her teen-age son, Pete. Myra is being courted by the very honest and decent Willis. But Willis is, unfortunately, so honest and decent that 3-D IMAX is going to arrive before her wedding day.

Meanwhile, she's surrounded by a slew of friends, family and townsfolk — all appropriately idiosyncratic in the way for which Foote, the writer of Tender Mercies, A Trip to Bountiful among many others, was known.

On one level, Talking Pictures is a slice o' nostalgic life. The title refers not only to Myra's story, but to the feel of the show, which is a flip through an animated photo album. And it's on that level that director Shawn Douglass, his cast and this production work so well.

All of the performers play with a great deal of integrity. Under Douglass' direction, no one ever winks at the audience or gives an ironic, contemporary performance. Sara Barbisch imbues Myra with a rewarding sense of quiet conflict, torn by a variety of emotions. Erin McAuley injects some much-needed oomph as an anything-for-love soubrette, and Emily Violi's turn as the relentlessly inquisitive young girl Katie Bell is fun.

Of course, Foote wasn't an Oscar- and Pulitzer-winner because he wrote charming nostalgic Valentines. As with all his work, Talking Pictures is layered with an ineffable loneliness and an almost grinding sadness, made nearly unbearable because his characters are unable to voice their desperation. Foote's plays are always all about the subtext.

This Little Lake production never quite manages to go to the bottom of that well. But what it has done is create a pleasantly entertaining, if not dramatic, evening.

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