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On Theater: Enjoy 'Bountiful' journey on SCR stage

November 10, 2011|By Tom Titus
  • South Coast Repertory presents "The Trip To Bountiful," a life-affirming journey by playwright by Horton Foote and directed by Martin Benson.
South Coast Repertory presents "The Trip To Bountiful,"… (Henry DiRocco,…)

Home is where the heart is, and in Horton Foote's masterful play "The Trip to Bountiful," home is pretty much a state of mind, a memory that exists only in the reverie of its central character.

South Coast Repertory is taking "The Trip to Bountiful" and it's a beautifully involving journey. Director Martin Benson, who had a personal history with Foote and his works before the playwright died in 2009 at 92, has crafted the production with immeasurable care and concern.

The play's heroine is Carrie Watts, an aging widow who lives with her son and daughter-in-law in a cramped Houston apartment but yearns to return, if only for a brief visit, to her roots in Bountiful, Texas, where trains and buses no longer stop and the town's existence is a mystery even to station agents.

Just why she's so nostalgic about Bountiful is evident in the play's opening segment as she's shown enduring a virtual servant's life with a taciturn son and his fiercely controlling wife. Soon this plucky lady sets out on her own (it isn't her first such venture, but she's always been caught and returned), this time outwitting her pursuers.

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It's a difficult and demanding role, and one performed brilliantly by Lynn Milgrim, who does full justice to the character that won Geraldine Page an Oscar back in 1985. Her Carrie strives with limited mobility but unlimited zeal, vying for an independence long denied her in a bravura portrayal.

Daniel Reichert is a bit more difficult to fathom as the strong but silent son, tackling a new job after two years of an unexplained illness. His reticence becomes an identifiable character trait, particularly when contrasted with his wife, a harridan with a heart, however well disguised.

That would be Jennifer Lyon in a magnificent performance as this unsympathetic yet understandable woman who rules the Houston roost (even her mother-in-law calls her "ma'am"). Lyon brings this complex character to richly detailed life with persistent personal power.

Among the play's fringe characters, Lily Holleman is most memorable as the young woman who shares the bus ride with Milgrim's character. It's a low-key role, but Holleman effortlessly brings out its warmth, richness and sincerity.

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