ALBANY: “The Trip to Bountiful, currently at Capital Repertory Theatre through May 15, is an American fable. It’s filled with people we feel we know, or ought to, and tells a sentimental story at a leisurely pace.
Indeed, if Norman Rockwell wrote a play, it would probably look a lot like “The Trip to Bountiful.” It shows us a world we want to see rather than the world in which we live. It’s a world where all people are good when given an opportunity and even people who hurt other people are not really bad.
The play takes place in Houston, Texas in 1953, where the elderly Carrie Watts lives with her son Ludie and his wife Jessie Mae. It is not a happy arrangement. Jessie Mae does not like Carrie and is unkind to the older woman. Ludie is too meek to stand up to his wife.
Carrie knows she doesn’t have long to live and her dream is to return to her home town of Bountiful, Texas. Her family knows she is unable to live alone and they need her pension check to support supplement Ludie’s paycheck. Too, what they know is what Carrie refuses to accept - that Bountiful has become an uninhabited ghost town.
Carrie plots her escape and in the middle of the night takes a bus to try to return to Bountiful and fulfill her dream of returning to a life that is her own. On the bus she meets people to whom she tells her story, who in return offer her kindness. On the bus we learn of her hard life and shattered dreams. Most of all we learn about Carrie’s dignity, determination, kind nature and her gentle soul.
It’s the kind of a story that makes you feel so good that you neither notice nor care that it’s more than a little manipulative. It’s the kind of work that throws in moments of soulful gospel that pulls even harder at the heartstrings. Thankfully, it’s only seldom that the sentimentality seems cloying.
And truth be told, even though the work is lacking drama and legitimate conflict they are hardly missed as the play triggers enormous sympathy and genuine compassion for its central character.
What legitimizes the material is the excellent work on stage. “The Trip to Bountiful” would be horridly sappy unless you feel connected to Carrie. At Capital Rep, Barbara N. Howard is ideal in the role. She’s a sweet, caring, unassuming victim who never feels sorry for herself. Instead, she believes in herself and the goodness of others. At times, her acting is a little one-note but when the note is so perfect why change?
The supporting cast is also very good. Kevin Craig West is wonderfully subtle in the role of Ludie as the actor uses the timidity of the character to signal his conflict at being caught between two women he loves. What elevates West’s performance is he is able to play the character as passive without making him appear weak.
Almost stealing the show is Sadrina Renee who somehow defuses the nastiness of Jessie Mae. Renee walks the fine line between being mean and being evil. The woman’s self-centeredness is almost comical even though her treatment of Carrie borders on being cruel. Renee so establishes the character that even when the character blows a car horn off-stage she is an annoying presence.
It’s all played out on Jarod W. Rutherford’s simple set that magically transforms into Carrie’s old rundown home in Bountiful.
Congratulations are due Director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill who nurtured so many excellent performances. Most of all she captures the heart of the play which is about kindness and the importance of dreams.
“The Trip to Bountiful” at Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany. Through May 15. For schedule and ticket information call 445-7469 (SHOW) or capitalrep.org
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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