×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Trip to Bountiful

The stage version of Horton Foote's 1953 teleplay "The Trip to Bountiful" failed to prosper in either its late-1953 Broadway production or a 1959 Off Broadway stint. Now it's receiving a 50th-anniversary production, but the passing years have only exacerbated its simplicity and "sudsy woes," to quote the Chicago Tribune's Claudia Cassidy.

With:
Mrs. Carrie Watts - Dee Maaske Ludie Watts - Devon Abner Jessie Mae Watts - Hallie Foote Thelma - Michelle Federer First Houston Ticket Man - Alan Rust Second Houston Ticket Man - Nafe Katter Harrison Ticket Man - Frank Girardeau Sheriff - Ken Grantham

The stage version of Horton Foote’s 1953 teleplay “The Trip to Bountiful” failed to prosper in either its late-1953 Broadway production (39 performances, despite the presence of Lillian Gish, Jo Van Fleet and Eva Marie Saint) or a 1959 Off Broadway version (27 perfs). Nevertheless, it was made into a movie in 1985, for which Geraldine Page won an Oscar. Now it’s receiving a 50th-anniversary production from Hartford Stage and Houston’s Alley Theater. Unfortunately, the passing years have only exacerbated its simplicity and “sudsy woes,” to quote the Chicago Tribune’s Claudia Cassidy.

The play’s pivotal character, Mrs. Carrie Watts (or Mother Watts, as her frightful daughter-in-law calls her), was to have been played by Jean Stapleton in Hartford and Houston. But she had to drop out for personal reasons and was replaced by West Coast actress Dee Maaske, who played Mother Watts in an Oregon Shakespeare Festival production of the play in Ashland in 2001.

Maaske gives a gentle, honest reading of the role, one very different from Page’s mannered interpretation. But neither she nor anyone else involved — including director Michael Wilson and Horton Foote’s actress daughter Hallie and her husband, Devon Abner, both in the cast — can flesh out a play that seems so underwritten (particularly in the case of Mother Watts’ milquetoast failure of a son Ludie, played by Abner).

The first act is a family drama in which Mother Watts endures the incessant bickering of her daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Foote), a mean, completely selfish nag who is also, unfortunately, a cliche. The two women and Ludie are cooped up in a small Houston apartment and have been for some 15 years. In fact, Mother Watts has been away from her home in the Gulf Coast town of Bountiful for 20 years and has been pining to return to it all that time.

She eventually escapes while Jessie Mae is out at the drugstore, the play’s second act covering her bus journey back to Bountiful. The final act takes place in Bountiful itself, now a ghost town, at the disintegrating farmhouse Mother Watts once lived in. It gradually evolves into a character study of Mother Watts.

This is the type of play that has given rise to Foote being dubbed “the Chekhov of small-town America.” But there are no Chekhovian depths or resonances here. And even plot details often seem clumsy or forced or just plain unbelievable.

The cast is fine but little more. The settings, which make use of a revolve to encompass the Houston apartment, two bus terminals, a bus and Bountiful, have a stripped-down realism that doesn’t always work well. In the last act, designer Jeff Cowie has provided a lovely lyrical backdrop of fields and woods behind a scrim, leaving the stage in front of it bare. Trouble is, this gives no hint at all of the disintegrating farmhouse at which the action is supposed to be taking place. But then, one of the points of this minor work is that you can’t go home again.

The Trip to Bountiful

Hartford Stage, Hartford, Conn.; 489 seats; $60 top

Production: A Hartford Stage Co. presentation, in association with Houston's Alley Theater, of a play by Horton Foote in two acts. Directed by Michael Wilson.

Creative: Sets, Jeff Cowie; costumes, David C. Woolard; lighting, Rui Rita; music and sound, John Gromada; production stage manager, Lloyd Davis Jr.; production manager, Deborah Vandergrift. Artistic director, Michael Wilson. Opened, reviewed Feb. 26, 2003. Running time: 2 HOURS, 5 MIN

Cast: Mrs. Carrie Watts - Dee Maaske Ludie Watts - Devon Abner Jessie Mae Watts - Hallie Foote Thelma - Michelle Federer First Houston Ticket Man - Alan Rust Second Houston Ticket Man - Nafe Katter Harrison Ticket Man - Frank Girardeau Sheriff - Ken GranthamWith Adam Boe, Shannon Fitzpatrick, Kristin Flyntz, Peter Garrity, Jennifer Gawlik, Jonathan Kiviat, Andrea Miskow, Lillian Rigling, Gordon Rizza, Lonnie Young.

More Legit

  • Clueless review

    Off Broadway Review: 'Clueless' the Musical

    How does a musical stage adaptation of Amy Heckerling’s 1995 film comedy of oblivious privileged teens, “Clueless,” play in the era of female empowerment and millennial engagement? True, the principal skills of lead teen Cher Horowitz are the superficial ones of mall shopping and makeovers. But her sweet spirit and independence, plus some added P.C. relevance, [...]

  • Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary,

    Ley Line Unveils Brian Wilson Documentary, 'Hugo Cabret' Musical

    Producers Tim Headington and Theresa Steele Page have unveiled Ley Line Entertainment with a Brian Wilson documentary and a “Hugo Cabret” musical in the works. Ley Line said it’s a content development, production, and financing company with projects spanning film, television, stage, and music. Headington financed and produced “The Young Victoria,” “Argo,” “Hugo,” and “World [...]

  • Daniel Radcliffe

    Listen: How Broadway Made Daniel Radcliffe a Better Actor

    Acting onstage has been a regular part of Daniel Radcliffe’s career for more than a decade — and the “Harry Potter” star says there’s a good reason for that: It’s made him better. “It gives me a lot of confidence as an actor, which is not always something that I’ve felt,” Radcliffe said on the [...]

  • The Jungle review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Jungle'

    With the rumbling of semis careening by and the sound of Middle Eastern music in the distance, “The Jungle” aims to vividly immerse audiences into the world of the real-life migrant and refugee camp of the same name. By telling the story of the Jungle’s creation in Calais, France, in 2015, and its eventual destruction [...]

  • Hillary Clinton'Network' play opening night, New

    Hillary Clinton Attends Opening of Broadway's 'Network'

    A 1976 film might not be expected to translate seamlessly to Broadway in 2018, but for the cast and creative team behind “Network,” which premiered Thursday night with Hillary Clinton in the audience, the story still feels uncomfortably close to home. “It was a satire then, and now it’s documentary realism,” said Lee Hall, who [...]

  • 'Network' Review: Bryan Cranston Stars on

    Broadway Review: 'Network' With Bryan Cranston

    The 1976 film “Network” won four Academy Awards, including best original screenplay for writer Paddy Chayefsky, for its blistering portrayal of an American society fueled by greed and bloated on corruption. A haggard Peter Finch took the best actor trophy for his harrowing performance as Howard Beale, a TV newsman who is so disgusted by [...]

  • Faye DunawayVanity Fair Oscar Party, Arrivals,

    Faye Dunaway to Play Katharine Hepburn on Broadway

    Faye Dunaway will return to Broadway to play another acting diva. The Oscar-winner is set to portray Katharine Hepburn in “Tea at Five,” a one-woman play that charts the movie legend’s career over the course of a winding monologue. Dunaway last appeared on Broadway in 1982’s “The Curse of the Aching Heart.” In the 1990s, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content