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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

‘The Trip to Bountiful’ Worth Taking at Acacia

Theater Review

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Playwright Horton Foote’s 1953 television play, The Trip to Bountiful, carries strength and beauty in its language. Better known for its 1985 film adaptation (starring Geraldine Page, who won the Best Actress Oscar), Bountiful is not only a place in time and memory, it also serves as a metaphor for the journey of faith and its powers of healing.

In Acacia Theater’s heartwarming production, which opened last weekend, this trip is more about the travel than the arrival. And it is simply and gracefully wrought in the character of Carrie Watts. Forced to live with her overprotective son, Ludie, and his spiteful, uncaring wife, Jessie Mae, the aged, hymn-singing Carrie longs to return to her roots in the rural, idyllic town of Bountiful, Texas. Even if just for a visit, the trip would provide an escape from the two-room “prison” of an apartment that all three share in Houston. Past attempts to run away have been futile: Carrie’s family has repeatedly stopped her efforts, mostly because her monthly government checks are crucial to their survival.

Mary Ellen Atwood’s stirring performance as Carrie galvanizes this production about one woman’s determination to achieve her goal through faith and belief. Throughout the 115-minute performance (no intermission), Atwood fills the stage with a range of emotions that evoke as well as provoke: We feel her sense of hopelessness, hands clenched, rocking back and forth, as she reaches out to her past; we also sense her frustration as she’s forced to come into contact with a vindictive daughter-in-law. As the self-centered Jessie Mae, Mary Rynders finds a perfect balance between spitefulness and forgiveness in a performance so well nuanced that it takes someone with her experience and background to make it work.

This Trip is well worth taking, if only to learn that “home” is where the heart resides.

The Trip to Bountiful runs through May 16 in the Todd Wehr Auditorium at Concordia University.

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