Fair Use

An exploration of the controversy surrounding Wallace Stegner’s use of the life and writing of 19th century author and illustrator Mary Hallock Foote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Angle of Repose.

…A memorable and remarkable work by a gifted artist…


Fair Use is good theater, and theater companies are encouraged to make it available to a wider audience. The ensuing discussion of literary ethics can only help prevent such literary “borrowing” in the future.

A great deal is going on in this ambitious new play by Nevada County writer and actress Sands Hall. On one level, the play explores the considerable borrowing by novelist Wallace Stegner—an icon of the environmental movement in the 1960s and 1970s—in his Pulitzer-winning novel Angle of Repose.

Many reviewers complimented the authenticity of the voice of the novel’s leading female character. As it turns out, in creating that character, Stegner borrowed long passages—sometimes word for word—from letters of Mary Hallock Foote, a writer and illustrator who eventually settled in Grass Valley. Stegner also fictionalized any number of scenes drawn from Foote’s autobiography. But Stegner didn’t disclose the borrowing of Foote’s writing.

In the process of teasing out this story, the play becomes a celebration of Foote’s own life and work… In addition, Hall muses on the creative process in which all writers draw on the lives and experiences of others in their novels and plays.

Multiple levels of reality and fantasy and overlapping characters and plotlines make this a play that asks for a high level of attentiveness… There is a considerable payoff as the story develops—portions of the play’s second half are breathtakingly beautiful.
This big ambitious play is a feast, with a broad view and savvy, intelligent perspective on life and history, literature and art, marriage and more.

In a remarkable and haunting first play…Sands Hall dashes an idol to the ground with almost biblical righteousness – and then weeps over the shards. But then is Hall delivering the blow? Or is it a character coyly titled, “Playwright?”

Although Hall is an accomplished actor and director, as well as a novelist, this is her first play. What’s remarkable is its intricacy and almost symphonic interplay among characters, both real and imaginary, past blending with present, plain language and poetic eloquence…

… a memorable and remarkable work by a gifted artist…

A literary icon was brought to his knees Friday night in The Foothill Theatre Company’s world premiere of Sands Hall’s dense work about artistic appropriation. The play examines Wallace Stegner’s alleged misuse of Grass Valley writer Mary Hallock Foote’s letters and reminiscences in 1971 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Angle of Repose.

The play’s protagonists are Stegner, the well-known writer, and a fictional playwright who is trying to restore Foote’s true legacy. Stegner is accused of both misrepresenting Foote in his novel and, worse, passing off Foote’s own observations about the land she traveled and lived in as his own work.

…leaves a viewer with the greatest appreciation for Foote as a writer, illustrator and an extraordinary woman who kept her family together through remarkable circumstances.