KPBS AIRDATE: July 3, 1991
Thomas Wolfe said you can’t go home again. But Horton Foote says you can. In his warm-hearted 1953 play, “The Trip to Bountiful,” widow Carrie Watts tries desperately to get back to her old Texas home town, Bountiful, the barren farmland that once lived up to its name. She’s in the big city now, in Houston, with her son and his wife. Cooped up, constrained and needled endlessly by the harping, carping Jessie Mae, daughter-in-law from Hell.
All she wants is to regain her dignity. To feel the earth under her feet. To get her hands in the dirt once more before she dies. So she hides her “government check” and runs away from home. She meets a lovely young girl on the bus, a delicate thing whose husband was just sent off to the Korean War. As her wimpy son, Ludie and his wife try to track her down, she manages to make it back to Bountiful one last time.
It’s a simple story, simply told — at a slow, drawling, Texas pace. The Lamb’s Players have kept it unadorned, and have tried to maintain sentiment without sentimentality. Some of the really tender moments don’t quite hit the mark — like the honest, sharing bus-talk between the old and the young woman. And the split second in Bountiful when the lumpish Ludie allows himself to remember and relish his past.
Last winter, the tiny Santee Community Theater mounted a flawless production of the same play. The Lamb’s product isn’t perfect, but it’s gosh-darn good.
They imported Equity actress Jeannette Clift George to play Carrie Watts. She has captured the resolve and the feistiness of the character, if not her requisite refinement and stateliness. But it’s a very convincing portrayal.
Hers is also the most multi-faceted role. The others could tend toward caricature, and, under Robert Smyth’s direction, each actor has chosen to play one note. In each case, it’s a pleasant note, but there are no harmonic variations.
Deborah Gilmour Smyth plays Jessie Mae more high-strung than harpy. It’s a fine choice, though there isn’t much nuance there. David Cochran Heath is almost too defined, too strong for the weak, whipped Ludie. As the young girl, Thelma, Cynthia Peters is sweet, but we see none of the sparks she gave off recently in the Lamb’s production of “The Rivals.” And as the two minor characters, Mark Howen and Ronald Lang resonated their last Lamb’s roles just a bit too much.
Mike Buckley’s set and lighting design are perfect for the play and the space. They fit snugly, subtly and unobtrusively. Same with Veronica Murphy Smith’s slightly frumpy, 50’s costumes. Nothing overdone here. Not a lot of complexity or layering. But the surface is smooth, and finished with a soft touch.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1991 Patté Productions Inc.