Texas is the only state that allows its residents to vote from space — a practical matter, since most NASA astronauts live in Houston. A quest for the stars is a common pursuit in “Foote Notes,” a luminous and deeply moving staging of two rarely seen Horton Foote one-acts, now at Open Fist Theatre. Under Scott Paulin’s fine direction, the residents of Harrison, Texas, chase big dreams just out of reach.
In “A Young Lady of Property,” set in 1925, sassy teenage Wilma (the excellent Juliette Goglia) dreams of being a movie starlet, burying the pain of her mother's death as her troubled father (Kevin McCorkle) courts another woman.
“The Land of the Astronauts” takes place half a century later, but the song remains the same. Pretty and worried, Lorena (Laetitia Leon) shows up at the sheriff’s to report a runaway spouse. Seems her husband, Phil (Aaron McPherson), stuck in a dead-end gig at his brother’s restaurant, has taken flight to Houston to train for zero gravity. When a man tries to return Phil’s suitcase, he waves it away. After all, he’ll be wearing a space suit from now on.
The stories are simple, but their emotion runs deep, and Paulin turns the stage into a moving sculpture, layering stories like planets in orbit. The action is framed by Richard Hoover’s stunning backdrop, a sepia-tone mural with mirage-like images of small-town life: country road, open sky, a farmhouse. The set evokes Foote’s trademark style -- you get to know his characters slowly, and invest in them without realizing it. Like Chekhov, Foote understands that heartbreak is a strange gift, passage into a new world as mysterious as the moon.
There are plenty of nuanced performances, among them Martha Demson as Wilma’s reserved aunt, AlgeRita Wynn as her live-in maid and Matt Little as a chivalrous deputy set to marry a Bible-thumping gal. During the elegant transitions, cast members sing an old gospel hymn: “I wonder who will sing for me/When I come to the cross by the silent sea.” They needn’t worry. This show has done right by them.
“Foote Notes,” Open Fist Theatre, 6209 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 15. $25. www.openfist.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.