By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
Horton Foote’s play began as a TV drama in 1953 and later emerged as a play which, in 1985, became a film with an Academy Award performance by Geraldine Page.
Milgrim takes the lead here, playing the determined Carrie whose mission, late in life, is to return to her roots in a southwest Texas farm town, Bountiful. The place was dying when she left 20 years earlier and now is almost completely dead. No matter, this is where she was born, raised a family, lost two children and a husband. Residents have moved out; developers have taken over the land.
She now lives in a three-room apartment with her son Ludie (a passive but wise Daniel Reichert) and his wife, Jessie May (a domineering yet appealing Jennifer Lyon). Lugie is caught in the middle between the two women.
Jessie Mae constantly orders and belittles Carrie, who is a strong personality, not easily giving in. Jessie Mae’s latest edict is to forbid religious Carrie from singing hymns. It makes her “nervous.” This is not a pleasant situation but certainly realistic.
The play’s great strength lies in Foote’s unsentimental take on these people and their circumstances.These characters are real and grab the audience’s attention. In the play, nothing much happens but a lot takes place under the surface in thoughts and conversations.
Early on, Carrie pleads:”Please Lugie, I want to go home.” Lugie, understandably, prevents her from going back to where almost nothing remains except memories. She has tried to escape repeatedly. Finally, her meager pension check in her purse, she slips away to the Greyhound terminal. Her journey and what she finds at the end is the heart of the story.
On the trip, she meets a young woman, Thelma (a sympathetic and likable Lily Holleman), who has her own issues to deal with but aids and abets Carrie. In addition, two SCR founding members, Richard Doyle and Hal Landon Jr. stand out as two kindly country folk, instrumental in making her trip successful. Doyle plays a small-town ticket agent and Landon appears as a kindly sheriff Both understand her need for closure.
Director Martin Benson maintains a sure hand in presenting the play. He lets the cast spin out the small moments at a life-like pace and subtly brings out the play’s bigger message.
Thomas Buderwitz’s changing settings are key, as well. The shabby camped apartment is rich with fifties detail, from the small radio in the living room (Carrie is continually ordered by Jessie Mae to turn it off]to the cramped couple’s bedroom. It is easy to see that living in this small place has been a factor in the fraying relationships.
Midway, the bus ride is framed with a slide of the desolate countryside in the background. Finally, the climax is played out with Carrie’s ramshackle home and the once prosperous farmland as backdrop.
“The Trip to Bountiful” plays through Nov. 20 on SCR’s Segerstrom Stage in Costa Mesa.