Fifty-six years ago, when he was eight, Audie Foote's life changed. It would be decades, though, before he fully realized it.
"I was with my mom," he recalls. "We were walking in New York City, and I saw a homeless man, this derelict, and I made some kind of joke. I made fun of him."
His mother stopped in her tracks, right there in the street, and told her son a story, a true story, something that had happened to her shortly after World War II. From that moment on, Foote was never unkind to street people again, and that story has stayed with him ever since. Now that story is being told again, this time as a stage play, The Angel of Chatham Square, opening this weekend by the Raven Players.
"I wrote it as a one-act for a short play festival the Raven was having a couple of years ago," he says of his first stab at playwriting. "People were just incredibly moved by the story, so I decided to turn it into a full-blown two-act play."
Directed by John DeGaetano, the play takes place in 1948, when Foote's mother, a waitress, was required to wait each night after midnight at a bus stop near Chatham Square in New York's notoriously rough Bowery district.
"The first night," says Foote, "she was waiting for the bus, and this guy approached her, a scary guy, clearly with evil intentions. Suddenly, this homeless guy appeared, and he protected her until her bus came. The next night, when she got off the bus at Chatham Square again, this guy who'd saved her was there waiting, to watch over her again until her connecting bus arrived."
Gradually, the one fellow became a small crew of guardians, and as she got to know them, learning their stories as she waited for her bus, she decided to return the favor.
"She started bringing them doggy bags from her restaurant," Foote says. "She brought them my father's old clothes. She brought them cigarettes. They started calling her the Angel of Chatham Square."
Foote, who's appeared in close to 20 plays over the last seven years, plays one of his mother's beloved street guardians. The experience of watching his mother's life-changing tale blossom into reality has been, he says, surreal—and incredibly rewarding.
Foote is fairly certain that Angel will not be his last play.
"I know a couple of other stories," he laughs.