Thoughts & Musings

2nd Story’s ‘Bountiful’ a Sweet Charmer

The show a nice alternative to traditional holiday fare.

by Channing Gray, Providence Journal
  • 1st December 20141/12/14
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There’s no mention of Christmas in Horton Foote’s touching “The Trip to Bountiful,” which opened Sunday at 2nd Story Theatre. But as director Ed Shea said before the start of the show, its story about the renewal of the human spirit certainly sums up the message of the holidays.

You might even call it a play about the indomitability of the human spirit, for Foote’s Carrie Watts, frail but feisty, is a force to reckon with.

It took me a while to get on board with Paula Faber’s portrayal of her, though, which at first seemed a little flat for such a colorful character.

Instead, those opening moments of the play belong to Lara Hakeem’s Jessie Mae Watts, Carrie’s domineering daughter in law. It’s a brilliant, spot-on portrayal of a carping, complaining shrew that sort of eclipses the rest of the cast.

It is true that Jessie Mae is something of a motor mouth, but it’s Hakeem’s dismissive inflections, the fact she seems to care for no one but herself, that added some much needed sparkle.

But Faber grew on me as she lets us see that Carrie is not just a crazy old coot lost in fantasies. She’s been existing in a cramped Houston apartment with her hen-pecked son Ludie and shrill, demanding Jessie Mae, all the while dreaming of returning to her childhood home in Bountiful, Texas one last time.

In the past, when Carrie has tried to escape, Ludie, played with smoldering frustration by Nathanael Lee, and Jessie Mae have tracked her down and brought her home before she could board a bus. But now she has eluded them and made it most of the way to her destination.

And at that point her quest to step foot on the porch of her long-abandoned childhood home one last time seems like it might provide some joy and meaning to an otherwise empty life.

There is a real moment of sanity and truth as Carrie refuses to listen to the sheriff who has come to fetch her and bring her home. She insists that Joe Henderson’s kind-hearted sheriff drive her the rest of the way, shrieking “Bountiful” over and over again in a truly chilling moment.

The show is just over an hour with no intermission. But it packs quite an emotional punch, in part because it is so simple, so focused on Carrie’s obsession with returning home one last time, where she can stand among the overgrown fields watching the birds and smelling the Gulf air.

Trevor Elliott’s evocative set uses large panels with painted scenery to help tell the story, along with a few props to suggest bus stations and Ludie’s hole-in-the-wall apartment.

Eric Behr, who has been in numerous 2nd Story productions, does a fine job providing the musical backdrop, singing folk songs and accompanying himself up on the guitar.

Again, this may not seem like a holiday show, but it does have a lot to say about the pull of home, a powerful message told by an unlikely messenger. And that makes the show a nice alternative to traditional holiday fare.

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