The Trip To Bountiful (The SOB Review)The Trip To Bountiful (The SOB Review) - The Albert, Goodman Theatre, Chicago IL
***1/2 (out of ****)
Finally, some truth in advertising.
That's right, a theatrical experience that plainly states exactly what it is, right up front, in its title.
Horton Foote's The Trip To Bountiful is just that and so much more in the current revival now playing at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. The playwright's brilliance is more than proficiently realized by director Harris Yulin through the incandescence of its performances.
Ironically, the play cleverly ensues with John McKernon's dimly lit stage, the only hint coming from a lonely window where an aging Texan is quietly rocking in her chair. The light glows around Carrie Watts, aptly named thanks to the astonishing luminescence of Lois Smith, and burns brighter as her yearning to return home to a place called Bountiful, one last time, becomes a transformative power.
Never mind that she's tried to get back there before. For 20 years, she's been cooped up in the same Houston flat with her passive dullard of a son Ludie (Devon Abner) and his control freak wife Jessie Mae (Hallie Foote, the playwright's daughter), who feigns being inconvenienced by anything that takes the spotlight off her. From time to time, Carrie tries her best to sneak off, but fails to get very far.
But that little light that's shining brightly within her very soul can't easily be extinguished. And when it burns hot enough, with each multiple henpeck and scolding from Jessie Mae, Carrie is set into motion yet again. This time, however, she gains just enough traction with an assist from the kindness of a stranger named Thelma (Meghan Andrews), a fellow bus passenger who shares the ride with Carrie to a town near Bountiful.
That she gets so close is only half the story, but that she must also endure life alongside Ludie and Jessie Mae is most certainly the other in a classic example of children treating a parent as the child.
Abner's Ludie is so submissive, so fearful in his relationship with his wife that you just want to shake him, admonishing him to be a man. Jessie Mae, on the other hand, is so vainly narcissistic that she disparages Carrie, taking all her marital hostility out on the poor beleaguered mother-in-law. The acting was so convincing that just as I wanted to tell Ludie to snap out of it, I wanted to reach out and wring Jessie Mae's neck.
Allow me to pause here to salute Foote's magnificently haughty portrayal, serving as the perfect foil to Smith's impeccably drawn Carrie. Both actresses are nothing short of excellent.
After missing the Signature Theatre Company's celebrated revival of Foote's gentle, yet powerful work about the indignities of aging, I couldn't stop kicking myself. Not only did the play receive accolade after accolade when it played Off-Broadway, but it also reaped award after award.
How absolutely fortunate for all of us who missed Signature's run that Chicago's Goodman Theatre chose to honor the works of the great nonagenarian with a festival. And that great fortune extends to transferring Harris Yulin and most of the exceptional Signature cast, as well as design team (including E. David Cosier's marvelous sets), to Chicago.
This is one show that's definitely worth making the trip. I'm glad I finally did.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
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