BWW Reviews: Strong, Understated Performances at Core of A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL
A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, produced by Agape Actors Co-Op and Hope United Church, plays the Monument Market at the Monument Café now thru Saturday, September 14th. The Monument Café is located at 500 S. Austin Ave, Georgetown, 78627. Tickets are $40 VIP seating, $35 general, and $40 for students and seniors. Admission includes dinner provided by the Monument Café. Dinner starts at 7pm. Show starts at 8pm. Tickets are not available at the door. For tickets, please visit http://triptobountiful.brownpapertickets.com.
Halfway through the first act of A Trip to Bountiful, now playing at the Monument Market in Georgetown, the elderly Carrie Watts escapes the cramped Houston apartment she shares with her son and his wife and ventures to Bountiful, a small Texas town she once called home. As soon as she leaves her family's controlling and watchful eyes, she stands center stage as a slow, silent grin makes its way across her face in a moment of personal victory. It's this type of simplicity and subtlety that makes Horton Foote's play so wonderful and powerful. The story and characters are simple, but underneath there is a wealth of human emotion.
Foote's play may not be fast paced or action-packed, but it is more than able to hold its own against other great American family dramas. His dialogue is so naturalistic that it may take a while to warm up to (even the well-received current Broadway revival has been described as sluggish, and the first two exposition-filled scenes are a bit slow), but the audience will be completely captivated once they ease into Foote's restrained, unassuming story and characters.
Of course, it's easy to buy into Foote's world when a strong cast and director are guiding the way. Olin Meadows's direction fits Foote's style perfectly. His approach to the material is discreet, unfussy, and clearly focused on the journey of the central character. With a text as strong as this, a director should be able to take the laissez faire approach and let the dialogue and cast do the work. With a few notable and beautiful exceptions-such as a moment in which Carrie slyly and quietly packs for her escape or another in which the set swirls around Carrie after her flight-that's exactly what Meadows has done. He also handles the limitations and issues created by staging the work in an unconventional space wonderfully. The set is small and simple, forcing the audience to focus on the characters.
Having an actress like Joan Baker as the focal point certainly bolsters the production. As Carrie Watts, Baker gives an understated, delicate performance. Every beat and moment is carefully calculated but comes off as wonderfully authentic. She's more than capable of pulling of the duplicitous nature of the character. In front of her domineering daughter-in-law, she's a meek, feeble, elderly woman who doesn't have much time left on this earth, but at all times there's a stubborn, driven, and dignified woman underneath, and that persona climbs to the forefront scene by scene. While she may not have much in terms of stage time, Mindy Rast-Keenan is perfect as Thelma, a stranger Carrie meets at a bus station. She brings a sweetness and gentility to Thelma, a character who treats Carrie with more kindness than she receives from her own family.
As Carrie's son, Ludie, Nicholas Mani comes off appropriately deflated and defeated. To say that the two women in his life dislike each other would be an understatement, and this poor fellow has to live with both of them. He desperately tries to keep the peace, but as he does it's clear that he has little faith that they will ever reach a time when his family is truly happy. Ivah Marie Sorber also gives a strong performance as Jessie Mae, the snooty, bossy, controlling, and vain daughter-in-law. As she scolds and patronizes Carrie, she comes off as the Southern Belle equivalent of an evil stepmother. She certainly turns the role into a clear antagonist to Carrie, though I wonder if Sorber goes too far with the portrayal. At times, she's so vicious that there's little variance in the character, and the few moments in which Jessie Mae can show some tenderness to Carrie and Ludie aren't fully realized. Still, as I observed the performance at an invited dress rehearsal in which Sorber seemed a bit nervous, it's very possible that her portrayal of Jessie Mae will greatly improve in actual performances.