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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Plentiful reasons to see The Trip to Bountiful
at ACT Theatre

The Trip to Bountiful
Marianne Owen
A simple, homespun tale of an aging woman's pursuit of her perceived happier youth is the framework for Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, which has known life as a teleplay in the Golden Age of TV drama in the 1950s, as an Oscar Award winning vehicle and career culmination for veteran actress Geraldine Page in the 1980s, and as a successful New York stage revival starring redoubtable character actress Lois Smith just a few seasons ago. ACT Theatre's exceptionally well-crafted season-opening production, directed with characteristic sensitivity by Victor Pappas, provides stalwart Seattle leading lady Marianne Owen, in the central role of Texas matriarch Carrie Watts, with her best role in years. The play is not flashy, nor does it pretend to be an important work, but it is a great ensemble actor's vehicle which fosters both warm chuckles and the occasional honestly earned teardrop.

Any modern baby boomer who has ended up supporting and in some cases housing an aged parent will identify with this story of Carrie, an elderly woman cooped up, perhaps indeed trapped, in a bare-bones Texas apartment with her deflated ne'er do well son Ludie and his edgy, impatient and easily perturbed wife Mae. The town they live in, somewhere in Southeast Texas, is about three miles away from the Texas Gulf town of Bountiful, where Carrie and a young Ludie knew happier times, till their fortunes turned. Carrie has made breaks to return to Bountiful before and, armed (or so she thinks) with a pension check and bus fare, she sneaks away one morning for a return to the promised land, with Ludie and his missus not far behind. The nearest bus doesn't get her to Bountiful, but a town some 30 minutes away where a kindly Sherriff takes it upon himself to get Carrie back home, having been advised that her son is on his way to fetch her back. Carrie's trip to Bountiful isn't necessarily what she thought it would be, but it culminates in a better understanding and a hope for happier times with the son and daughter-in-law she has no choice but to return to.

Owen makes her Carrie likable, ornery, funny, wistful, stubborn, and altogether good company to be in for the play's sometimes rambling, intermission-less one hour and forty minutes. There is strong chemistry between the actress and actor Paul Morgan Stetler who, as Ludie, takes a back seat to the two strong-willed women in his life, till finally he finds the gumption to stand up and negotiate a truce between them, and Stetler handles that transition very well. Mary Kay Irvin shines and crackles with energy as the perpetually unsatisfied Mae, making sure that beneath her harsh facade we see a woman who might be more likable were the circumstances of her life less limiting. Jessica Martin as Thelma, a young soldier's wife Carrie becomes acquainted with on the bus trip, absolutely glimmers as the timid but kindly soul and is visually perfect in the role is well. Charles Leggett captures the heart of a gruff but kindly Texas gentleman as the Sherriff, and both Wesley Rice and Ian Bell add color to the proceedings as bus station ticket agents. Pappas is an actor's director in the grand tradition, as apparent by the fine ensemble work, and he manages to stage the play fluidly, despite certain frustrations posed, mainly in the apartment scenes, by the staging in the round.

Matthew Smucker's scenic design is spare yet effective, and there are some delicious elements in Rick Paulsen's lighting design, especially a shimmering night sky effect. Frances Kenny provides the suitably well-worn appearing costumes.

The Trip to Bountiful may be a hard sell in a down-beat economy. It's not a down-beat show, and it showcases a cast of local actors as fine as you would see anywhere, especially Owen, who alone makes the trip a worthwhile one.

The Trip to Bountiful runs Tuesdays-Sundays through June 6 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, downtown Seattle. For more information go to www.acttheatre.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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