The award-winning, Texas-born playwright Horton Foote had an indisputable knack for developing realistic characters as well as a remarkable ear for dialogue. Both of these talents are vividly on display in his gentle 1953 lament, The Trip to Bountiful, now playing at the Classic Theatre of San Antonio.
Carrie Watts (Magda Porter) is an elderly woman living in a tiny Houston apartment with her son, Ludie (Steven Starr) and his wife, Jessie Mae (Alison Bridget Chambers). Life for her here is not good, however. She is treated more like an annoying houseguest than a family member by her flighty, high-strung daughter-in-law. She is also given to singing hymns and running around the house when she should walk, which infuriates Jessie Mae, who would rather be out with her friends drinking Coca-Colas instead of keeping an eye on the “old lady”. Although Ludie makes attempts to mediate, both women are strong-willed and their battles are frequent.
Carrie feels like she’s suffocating in these three small rooms, and she longs to return to the gulf coast town of Bountiful where she’d grown up. Since her current existence is so wretched, she’s been building up the memory of her previous life in her mind until returning home represents her last chance for happiness.
This superbly crafted one-act piece has been given a loving production at the Classic. The subtle direction by John O’Neill is complemented by Diane Malone’s simple yet effective scenic design. This serves to place the emphasis where it belongs — on the play’s characters.
And what characters they are. Porter, walking in the footsteps of the legendary Lillian Gish and Geraldine Page, delivers her own interpretation of Carrie Watts, and it’s wonderful. Although Jessie Mae is a rather hissable character on the surface, she is not entirely devoid of humanity, and Chambers does splendid work revealing both aspects of her personality. Also excellent is Starr’s Ludie, whose soft-spoken ways conceal the fact that he’s just as heartbroken as his mother. Filling other key roles are Emily Huber as Thelma, the friendly young woman whom Carrie befriends on the trip, and Joe DeMott as the kind-hearted sheriff who helps Carrie fulfill her dream.
The Trip to Bountiful plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through March 10 at the Classic Theatre of San Antonio, 1924 Fredericksburg Road. Reservations can be made online or by calling the box office at (210) 589-8450.
Photos by Siggi Ragnar.