THEATRE REVIEW: 2ND STORY THEATRE’S THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
It's a universal sentiment that home is where the heart is.by Bill Rodriguez, CoxHub
As E.T. informed us, it’s a universal sentiment that home is where the heart is. So no surprise that The Trip to Bountiful, by Texan and playwright Horton Foote, is getting a heart-warming rendition at 2nd Story Theatre through December 21.
Paula Faber and Erin Olson in The Trip to Bountiful
Born as a teleplay in 1953, the story is fairly slow-moving for an escape drama but nevertheless keeps us engrossed for its 80 minutes. As director Ed Shea remarked to the audience before the press viewing, this offering sums up the Christmas spirit of the season’s usual suspects he refuses to stage, including being about “the reclamation of a soul.”
For the past 20 years, Carrie Watts (Paula Faber) hasn’t returned to Bountiful, which she’s sighed over even though memories of it include working herself exhausted in the field. There can’t be much left there, since, at the time, there wasn’t more than a post office, general store, and filling station. For the past 15 years she’s been stuck in Houston, cared for by her kindly son, Ludie (Nathanael Lee), and nagged and berated by her mean-spirited daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae (Lara Hakeem). In recent years, every once in a while Carrie has mustered up the spirit of Ulysses buying his first walking stick and has struck out for Bountiful — well, sneaked off — caught every time and marched back, head bowed.
As alluring as her old home has been in her imagination, her actual home is awful in reality. Her daughter-in-law is quite the drill sergeant, acting on the principle that “This is my house and you will do as you’re told!” Jessie Mae hates Carrie’s humming hymns and lives for beauty parlors, Coca-Colas, and getting her own way. Henpecked, gentle Ludie can’t do much to mollify her. He’s dispirited, all but defeated, having exhausted his savings while being sick for two years, nursed by his mother. In a new, menial job for six months, it’s all he can do to build up the courage to ask his boss for a raise. Without his mother’s pension check, he feels he’d be hard-pressed to make do.
Every time that Carrie has been brought back, she’s promised that she won’t run off again. She probably means it each time, but what’s a woman to do when the yearning comes upon her like the urgency pulling migrating geese? She’s not healthy enough to walk to the grocery store, never mind travel, being prone to “sinking spells.” But when she sets forth this last time, we get the sense that the momentum of her sheer determination is going to get her there.
Carrie isn’t completely dotty — she has her pension check for money; and she plans to show up on the doorstep of an old girlfriend who lives nearby, not just park herself in her ramshackled old house. Trains no longer stop in Bountiful, but buses go to a neighboring town, so it’s in a Greyhound station that she gains an ally and confidante in Thelma (Erin Olson), a sympathizing stranger. Since nobody dislikes a little old lady journeying home (except that daughter-in-law), the people she encounters are helpful, such as Roy (F. William Oakes), the bus station ticket clerk.
Faber is in firm control of her character, showing her to be resolute rather than stubborn. As her son Ludie, Lee doesn’t make him a milquetoast, bending to his wife’s every whim, just a man downtrodden by life, holding onto his ability to remain kind, so as to not plummet into bitterness. Hakeem is a wonderful Jessie Mae, playing her oblivious self-centeredness perfectly straight, which makes it so funny.
Shea has directed 2nd Story Theatre’s The Trip to Bountiful with restraint, not forcing any sentimentality, building everything not toward Carrie’s inevitable arrival at Bountiful, but short of there, at a panicked confrontation when she thinks she will be prevented by the Sheriff (Joe Henderson) from continuing on. Faber is allowed to let loose as Carrie becomes all but hysterical, displaying the energy and fierce will that’s been propelling her all along. Impressive. The play suddenly becomes a paean to feisty character, not just a predictable, comfortable travelogue.
Enhancing the proceedings at set changes is well-chosen hymn-based music by Eric Behr, befitting the scene. And a kudos to Set Designer Trevor Elliott for his rear-projection background panels, which give us snapshots from urban settings to rural ones is, nicely set off with black scrapbook corners. At 2nd Story even the incidental touches are on the money.