×
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.

Popular on Variety

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

  • Jonathan Pryce

    Jonathan Pryce on Early Roles, Reading Reviews and Advice He Got From Lee Strasberg

    Jonathan Pryce, who has done memorable work for 40-plus years, hits a career high in “The Two Popes,” a complex look at Francis, played by Pryce, and Benedict, portrayed by Anthony Hopkins. Though Pryce has played well-known figures before, such as Juan Perón in the 1996 “Evita,” he was hesitant to take on Pope Francis [...]

  • Tracy Letts Ford V Ferrari

    Tracy Letts on His Writing Routine and His Roles in 'Ford v Ferrari,' 'Little Women'

    Tracy Letts says he’s driven by the need to tell stories that showcase humanity. It’s a need that earned him a 2008 Pulitzer Prize for “August: Osage County” and led to his current Broadway play, “Linda Vista,” about a 50-year-old divorcé (played by Ian Barford) in the midst of a midlife crisis. Letts also brings the [...]

  • The Underlying Chris review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Underlying Chris'

    Will Eno, the playwright behind “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” and “The Realistic Joneses,” goes full ­­existential in his ambitious new play, “The Underlying Chris,” by following an Everyperson character named Chris/Christine/Christopher, et al, from cradle to grave. Disconcertingly at first, this protean person is alternately played by both male and female performers. But before [...]

  • & Juliet review

    West End Review: '& Juliet'

    From “Wicked” to “Waitress,” female empowerment has been a boon for musical theater. But where those shows veered between sincerely earnest and earnestly sincere, “& Juliet” gleefully goes for broke putting gender on the agenda as it yokes pop milestones from the likes of Britney Spears, Katy Perry and Celine Dion to a girl-power revamp [...]

  • Ephraim Sykes participates in the 73rd

    Michael Jackson Musical Finds Its King of Pop

    Tony Award nominee Ephraim Sykes will moonwalk on Broadway, playing Michael Jackson in “MJ The Musical.” The show, which its the Great White Way after a rocky gestation. It begins previews on July 6, 2020, at the Neil Simon Theatre with an official opening set for Aug. 13. Sykes is currently appearing in another pop [...]

  • A Christmas Carol review

    Broadway Review: 'A Christmas Carol'

    Those expecting a traditional take on Charles Dickens’ classic holiday perennial may be in for a shock at the new Broadway version of “A Christmas Carol.” Or at least they might be terribly perplexed by this dour production, whose additions only subtract from the potency of the transformative tale. While there have been many adaptations [...]

  • Timothee Chalamet poses for photographers at

    Timothée Chalamet to Make London Stage Debut With Eileen Atkins in '4000 Miles'

    Timothee Chalemet is set to take to the London stage for the first time, appearing next spring in Amy Herzog’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated play “4000 Miles.” Matthew Warchus will direct the production at The Old Vic, which will also star Eileen Atkins (“The Crown,” “Gosford Park”). The play opens April 2020. It turns on the story [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content