note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
“The Trip to Bountiful” currently at 2nd Story Theatre is sheer delight with winning performances and deft direction. It turns into an uplifting story of the indomitable spirit and sheer determination of human will to triumph over all obstacles to their goal, a perfect touch for a holiday spirit.
It tells the tale of Carrie Watts, an elderly woman forced by circumstances to live with her henpecked son and shrill controlling daughter in law, Jessie May. Carrie has one dream, to return to Bountiful, where she grew up, a place full of fondness in her heart. Stuck in her small Houston apartment, she continually tries to escape that limited prison for the broader expanses of her memories rooted in Bountiful, much to the chagrin of her daughter-in-law. Her previous efforts to escape are always thwarted by her son and daughter-in-law’s arrival just as she is ready to escape by bus or train. She tries hard to escape to see her childhood home one more time before she dies. It means the world to her, a treasure she cannot miss any longer, nor avoid, in a sense, her destiny. She is frail but feisty and with a mind of her own no matter what.
“The Trip to Bountiful” was written by Horton Foote. The play premiered March 1, 1953 on NBC-TV, before being produced on the Broadway stage. Its 1954 staging earned Jo Van Fleet a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Play at the 8th Tony Awards. The role of Carrie Watts won Geraldine Page the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film adaptation and Cicely Tyson the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play at the 67th Tony Awards for the 2013 Broadway production, which earned a total of 4 Tony Award nominations.
Paula Faber is Carrie and the epitome of restraint and determination, dogged determination no matter what she encounters. She will return to Bountiful no matter what stands in her way. It is a quiet determination, an iron will that is usually under control and hidden beneath a savvy restraint. She evolves and grows on you, not just some crazy old lady who is willful and determined with no good reason. She has a purpose and knows what it is and will not relinquish it, ever. Faber is in control and delivers an admirable performance as Cassie, one full of nuance and fine emotional touches.
Nathaniel Lee is her son Ludie. He is totally henpecked and at his wife’s mercy as much as his mother and plays the role of peacemaker and diplomat between the two women with caution and concern. He worries about his mother’s health and recoils at his wife’s cloying, downright ill tempered and self centered disposition, particularly regarding his mother and her pension check. Lee delivers a fine performance, one with a sense of underlying suffering and patience to a fault.
Lara Hakeem is Jessie May whose idea of life is reading movie magazines and drinking cokes. She doesn’t work and lords it over Ludie’s mother like an empress. She rules the roost and knows it. She is only concerned about her wants and needs and non on else’s. She is controlling and offers a daunting presence which hovers over all like a dark cloud. Hakeem’s performance is right on the mark, a picture perfect portrayal of a demanding , self absorbed woman who is only concerned about her desires and needs and no one else.
There is some strong support here with the smaller roles which show up throughout the play.
Joe Henderson is the sheriff who catches up with Carrie and helps her complete her journey to Bountiful. Henderson is caring and sincere in the role humane and understanding of Carrie’s plight and his duties under the law. It is an excellent balance.
The3re is additional strong support coming from Jim Sullivan and John Connery as two bus station attendants. Erin Olsen is there to provide understanding and compassion as a fellow traveler, Thelma, whom Carrie befriends in her odyssey back home and does a wonderful job, sincere and convincing.
There is some find live music on hand provided by Eric Behr, who adds color and depth to the play with musical resonance.
Director Ed Shea keeps a keen eye to period detail here and the emotional substance of the play, providing a rich, vibrant experience. While the play itself does not refer to Christmas it evokes the kind of warm feelings associated with this time of year, through vivid performances and excellent sets.
The set by Trevor Elliot is evocative and fascinating. The earlier large panels of painted scenery are reminiscent of American Painter Edward Hopper, in their moodiness and element of melancholy which pervades them. The ones later in the show are more reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth, still with that element of sadness and sweet remembrance.
“The Trip to Bountiful” runs through Dec. 21 at 2nd Story Theatre, 28 Market St., Warren. Tickets are $30, and $21 for ages 21 and under. Call (401) 247-4200, or visit 2ndstorytheatre.com.