SanDiegoStory.com welcomes David Dixon as a guest reviewer. Mr. Dixon is currently the entertainment editor for San Diego State’s Daily Aztec, and he regularly reviews theatre for that publication. Here, he offers his views on New Village Arts’ production of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful. – Bill Eadie
Sylvia M’lafi Thompson has been getting a lot of acclaim in the past few years for her work in San Diego productions such as Fences and Our Town. Her acting deserves to be praised once again, in the New Village Arts Theatre’s interpretation of The Trip to Bountiful.
During the 1940’s, an elderly woman, Carrie Watts (Thompson), lives with her son, Ludie Watts (Walter Murray), and his uptight wife, Jessie Mae Watts (Yolanda Franklin) in Houston, Texas. Carrie desperately wants to leave the apartment she’s living in and visit her old home in Bountiful. Without consulting anyone, Carrie decides to run away so she can go there one last time.
This particular version of The Trip to Bountiful is noted for having a mostly African American cast. Director, Kristianne Kurner, decided to take this tack after seeing Thompson as Mama in Moxie’s Craig Noel Award winning production of A Raisin in the Sun.
I cannot say enough good things about Thompson’s emotionally honest performance. In Act One, she isn’t given a lot of dialogue since Carrie’s life is ruled by the controlling Jessie Mae. Once she leaves to go on her journey, Carrie opens up and reveals herself to be a much more colorful woman then she was in the opening. Watching Thompson explore this aspect of Carrie is a joy to see and it is easy to root for this immensely likable character to get to her destination.
Thompson can also break your heart, especially in a pivotal scene during Act Two when Carrie faces a major conflict in the Harrison bus station. Thompson gives a moving speech that is one of the most powerful moments of the show.
While only on stage for most of the second Act, Alexis Louise Young leaves a big impression as Carrie’s new friend, Thelma. Her natural charisma and winning chemistry with Thompson turn what could have been a forgettable supporting character into a memorable one.
My only issue with The Trip to Bountiful is that Murray and Franklin did occasionally stumble over their lines. This doesn’t mean that their performances were weak, because the two of them are believable in playing a dysfunctional couple in a marriage that is far from ideal.
Franklin is very funny playing a movie-loving wife who likes to be the boss. She handles the wit of Horton Foote’s book masterfully. [php snippet=1]
Murray has some funny exchanges with Franklin, but he is at his best whenever sharing the stage with Thompson. Their mother/son relationship is handled in such a tender way, that it is always a pleasure being in their company.
Kurner mainly keeps her direction simple by having the first two thirds of the drama focusing on the acting and not as much on the other elements of theatre. She blew me away with the final scene, which takes place in Bountiful. Her direction incorporates beautiful scenic design from Janell Cannon, lighting from Chris Renda and original music and sound from Bill Bradbury to make Bountiful itself, an almost heavenly place far removed from the ordinary world.
The Trip to Bountiful is both an enjoyably nostalgic and emotionally rewarding experience. Though it is almost three hours long, Thompson is so captivating that it is time well spent.