by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Players by the Sea and One World Foundation present Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful” at 106 Sixth Street North in Jacksonville Beach until June 8th. For reservations call (904) 249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org.
According to the words of a well-known song, love is lovelier the second time around. The same can be said of many things in life, like fashions and homecomings. And plays. When “The Trip to Bountiful” debuted on the New York stage in 1953, it played less than 100 performances despite an all-star cast. An Off-Broadway production in 2005, on stage for just over three months, resulted in an award for Outstanding Revival. Currently, “Bountiful” is back on Broadway in a second revival, which opened in April, 2013. The production has garnered outstanding reviews and multiple Tony nominations, and has sold out performances. A limited run is planned; the leading lady is Cicely Tyson, who at age eighty reportedly does not want an extended commitment.
You don’t need to go to NYC to see “The Trip to Bountiful”. With just a short trip to Jacksonville Beach, you can see an outstanding production of what has become a classic. It is directed by JOE SCHWARZ, Executive Director of Players by the Sea who has a special interest in Foote’s plays since he is also the Executive Director of the Horton Foote Legacy Project.
If you have not seen the 1985 movie version that won Geraldine Page an Oscar for Best Actress, here, briefly, is the plot. Carrie Watts is a widow who lives unhappily in a small apartment in Houston, Texas with her son, Ludie and her daughter-in-law Jessie Mae. The time is 1947; Carrie is determined to make her way back to Bountiful, Texas, where she grew up, buried two of her babies and raised her son Ludie.
KEVIN BODGE as Ludie portrays a gentle and understanding man, who must balance his affections between his mother, and his somewhat shrewish wife. He has been unwilling to help his mother return to Bountiful as he is concerned that she could not take care of herself due to health issues. OLIVIA GOWAN is outstanding as Jessie Mae, and while the character is someone very unlikeable you will love the performance by Ms. Gowan. Jessie Mae does not want Carrie to make the trip as she fears losing Carrie’s pension check which helps with household expenses, but mainly allows Jessie Mae to have enough money for frequent trips to the hair dresser, to the drug store for sodas , and to picture shows.
Carrie is finally able to elude Ludie and Jessie Mae and board a bus. The details we will let you discover when you see the show. At the bus station she meets a very lovely young lady, Thelma (ANNIE GARNER), who is sympathetic and sensitive to Carrie’s plight. Ms. Garner, a Douglas Anderson student, can usually be found working in a major role back stage but she is also a talented actress.
ROBERT THAMES handles two roles well as the Houston ticket agent, and Roy, a bus dispatcher. ALLEN MORTON is the kindly sheriff. Mr. Morton appears to have all the lawman roles cornered in this area, where this is at least the third time he has appeared as an officer of the law.
The key role in this play is of course, Carrie Watts, and in the hands of award winning actress GAYLE FEATHERINGILL, you are in for a treat as her performance is marvelous. Carrie’s only obsession in life is going home to Bountiful one more time before she dies. She does not read books or watch television (there was none available in the 1940s), but compulsively cleans the tiny three-room apartment they occupy, and plans for the day she will be able to “escape” to go back home. Cassie is always humming religious hymns, much to the displeasure of Jessie Mae who is constantly nagging Carrie.
Ms. Featheringill had a tenacious persistence combined with a wonderfully frail power in each scene. She creates a portrait of a dignified old lady with a lifetime of memories as company that are colored by humanity, warmth, wit—the savor of life.
While no one is credited with the set design, we are sure that Director Joe Schwarz was very much involved. The crowded small apartment reflected the 1940s and gave way to a realistic bus station, then later to a panoramic landscape, and finally . . . to Bountiful.
One suggestion we have concerns the music used in the play. In the first scene, a radio is turned on and one song is played. “Cry” by Johnny Ray was a lovely song but was not a 1940’s song and in fact was not written until 1951. A popular and big hit song in 1947 was “Heartaches” which would have been appropriate considering the theme of the play.
The Crew certainly contributed to the success of this show and they include: Michael Smithgall, Assistant Director; Jim Wiggins, Technical Director; Carl Vorwerk, Lighting Design; Anna Levin, Stage Manager; Costume Design, Sarah Marino; and Properties, Amanda Eason and MaryJane Smithgall. We highly recommend “Trip to the Bountiful” as a treasure of a play from the remarkable late Horton Foote.
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM