Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Over his half-century career, Horton Foote has written some fifty plays, along with numerous successful scripts for radio, television, and film. Two of his screenplays brought him Academy Awards: his adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and his original screenplay Tender Mercies (1983). In 1995, Foote won a Pulitzer Prize for his play The Young Man from Atlanta. However, though Foote is ranked among the finest American dramatists, his plays are not as well known as his films. Generally his plays have been produced at small theaters well away from Broadway; sometimes they have not even made it to New York. The Young Man from Atlanta was produced by an Off-Off-Broadway company and, according to a New York Times editorial writer, it was seen by only seventeen hundred people over its four-week run.

Negative reviews of The Young Man from Atlanta suggest why Foote’s dramas are less popular than they deserve to be. The play was called uninspired, insubstantial, and undramatic. However, other reviewers noted that, although Foote’s middle-class southerners are too well mannered to make scenes or to voice their frustrations in profanity, their sufferings are just as intense as those of the undisciplined characters so often seen in contemporary theater. As his admirers point out, Foote is a realist. The substance of his plays is life as it is lived by millions of Americans. His characters...

(The entire section is 408 words.)