Tuesday, September 30, 2014

'The Trip To Bountiful' Is A Pleasant Ride

By Darlene Donloe

Horton Foote’s The Trip To Bountiful is proof that a good story is colorblind.

The Trip To Bountiful, set in 1953 in Houston, Harrison and a country place in Texas, has had several incarnations. It was originally written, in 1953, as a teleplay by Horton Foote. It aired on NBC and starred Lillian Gish, Eileen Heckart and Eva Marie Saint. Gish and Saint reprised their roles when the show went to Broadway later that year. In the 1985 film version Geraldine Page took over the role of Carrie and won the Academy Award for Best Actress.  The characters, of course, were white.

This latest manifestation of the Tony-nominated Broadway revival, currently playing at the Ahmanson Theatre through Nov. 2, stars Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood, Vanessa Williams, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and, save for two white characters, a predominantly black ensemble.

Director Michael Wilson has a valid cast.

This production is full of drama with comedy thrown in for good measure.

(l-r) Blair Underwood and Vanessa Williams

Tyson, the star of the show, is brilliant in her role as Carrie Watts, an elderly woman who wants to go back home to Bountiful, Texas just one more time. Every so often she makes her escape from her son and daughter’s home and attempts to make her way to Bountiful. Whether dramatic or comedic, Tyson delivers all of her line with strength and panache. She has one-on-one scenes with every main character in the show – and she nails them all. She’s intoxicating to watch. What is most impressive is the stamina Tyson appears to have in a physically demanding show. She is on stage throughout most of the play.

Underwood plays her son, Ludie, a man who at one time was broken, but is working his way back to his true self. Underwood shows Ludie’s vulnerable side. He clearly has some issues. He’s torn between making his headstrong wife, Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams), happy as well as his determined mother, Carrie.

Williams brings a controlling and self-centered vibe to the self-absorbed Jessie Mae. The character is so sickening it’s no wonder Carrie occasionally makes her escape. The audience finds itself rooting for her to take flight.

(l-r) Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood and Vanessa Williams

Arthur French lends an elegance and wit to his role as the sympathetic small town bus station attendant.

Jurnee Smollett-Bell, who plays Thelma, a woman Carrie meets in the bus station, adds her spark to the production.

The costumes (Van Broughton Ramsey), lighting (Rui Rita) and set (Jeff Cowie) bring the story to life. However, when Carrie goes home to Bountiful, it would have added more depth to the scene to add either some sawdust or dust to the stage’s clean and shiny wood floors.

That being said, The Trip To Bountiful is worth the fare.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yes) and E (excellent), The Trip To Bountiful gets an E (excellent).

The Trip To Bountiful, by Horton Foote, is directed by Michael Wilson and stars Blair Underwood, Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Devon Abner, Wade Dooley, Arthur French, Pat Bowie, Russell Edge, Keiana Richard, Duane Shepard, Sr., Dalila Ali Rajah and Desean Kevin Terry.

The Trip To Bountiful, Ahmanson Theater, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri.; 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. Sun., no Monday performances; Exceptions: Added 6:30 p.m. performance on Sundays, Oct. 5 and 19; Added 2 p.m. performance on Thurs., Oct. 30; No 1 p.m. performance on Sundays, October 5 and 19. No 8 p.m. performance on Tues., Oct. 28; Through Nov. 2; $25-$115; www.CenterTheatreGroup.org or 213 972-4400.

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