The Trip To Bountiful

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    April 1, 2013

    This should be called The Trip to Cecily Tysonville. This actor has honed in on the character of Carrie Watts with the skill of a surgeon using laser instruments.

    Carrie Watts is a woman who is part of a family that has learned to settle. They had made their peace with quiet desperation, and the way to handle it is to never kick up too much dust. Just about the time that we meet Mrs. Watts, however, her dust-kicking days are still ahead of her. After 20-plus years in Houston, Carrie wants to go home to Bountiful. She wants to smell the sea air and let the memories of her very happy childhood wash over her. She wants to be recharged with the vitality that the town of Bountiful once had for her.

    Her son Ludie (Cuba Gooding) is leading a delicate balance of a life. He has just returned to work after being ill for two years. He is grateful for his job but resents the fact that he used up all his savings while he was ill. His wife of 15 years, Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams) is a woman of narrow vision and frayed nerves. They are not able to have children, and while Jessie Mae says she never thinks about that, it seems clear that this is a woman with too much time on her hands. Something is racing around in that head of hers, but she quiets it with Cokes at the drugstore (we are in the land of soda counters, not soda bottles) and one movie magazine after another. Mrs. Watts living with them is a trial and a tribulation. There is no talk of getting rid of her, especially as she comes with a pension check, but there is no joy surrounding her presence.

    Carrie has run off before to try and get back to Bountiful. And one wonders why someone didn’t just pile into a car and take her there to see what was no longer hers. But this is 1953 Texas, and cars are not everyone’s property. And the bus or train would cost dearly. No matter. On this particular day Carrie tosses caution to the wind, and off she goes.

    She ends up sharing a bus ride with Thelma (C0ndola Rashad) who is a military wife going to stay with her parents while her husband is deployed. The two exchange confidences and it is here we learn that Carrie married a man she didn’t love because her true love’s father and her own were feuding. We also learn that she lost a daughter. These facts are not dwelled upon because that is not how Foote writes. The details of a person’s life are revealed like dandelion fluff in a spring breeze. Foote does not let you dwell on one particular fact. It is the aggregate that tells the tale.

    The upshot is that Carrie makes it to the house she called home. It is sad and dilapidated (and way too far stage left for many of us to see properly) and her heart nearly bursts with joy when she is able to lay hands on it. With the visit comes the understanding that her wish was granted, and this visit will be the true and proper farewell to Bountiful. She will return to Houston with her family and life will somehow be better than it was.

    As I said Tyson is simply glorious. Her Carrie is a character who wears her history on her sleeve. Hopes and dreams and disappointments are all laid out like a smorgasbord. The rest of the cast does not fare so well, which is an enormous disappointment because this is not supposed to be a one-person show. Cuba Gooding and Vanessa Williams (whose makeup is perfect whether asleep or awake) both come across as one-note characters. He is resigned and she is unsatisfied. Period! Their characters never achieve three dimensions, and none of the other characters do either. Therefore Ms. Tyson has no partners up there with whom she can really play. Mr. Wilson’s direction is puzzling - and his decision to have black and white people easily mingling at a bus station in Texas in 1953 is a mystery.

    What could have been spectacular comes off as ordinary. To my mind we miss out on the many character layers that are spelled out for us in the text and must be satisfied with watching a wonderful actor give us a lesson in her craft. It is an extraordinary event in itself, but it could have been spectacular.

    "Generally sluggish production."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "During a bus ride to Bountiful, they (Cicely Tyson's 'Carrie' and Condola Rashad's 'Thelma) trade secrets about themselves and love. It is this leg of “The Trip” that’s the most abundantly satisfying."
    Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

    "Make sure you have tissues handy for this one."
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "Not-to-be-missed."
    Erik Haagensen for Back Stage

    "The cast is good company, but the production doesn't, ultimately, amount to much."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "But this really is Tyson's show, and she packs quite a punch in that tiny frame, literally. Spunky and warm, this is a performance that's sure to be talked about for the next 60 years."
    Roma Torre for NY1

    "Offers a journey well worth taking."
    Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey

    "Comfort-food Broadway revival... Perfectly entertaining, just a long way from being all that this play can be."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - NY1 - Newsroom Jersey - Hollywood Reporter