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by | Apr 5, 2024 | Review | 0 comments

Director Ron Reed’s production of The Trip To Bountiful is consistently tender and nuanced. It’s a thing of beauty. I encourage you to see it.

In Horton Foote’s script, which premiered in 1953, Mrs. Carrie Watts engineers an escape from the cramped apartment in Houston that she shares with her son Ludie and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae. Ludie is a quiet guy. In many ways, Jessie Mae is mean and selfish: “This is my house, and you’ll do as I say.” While Jessie May is getting her hair done and drinking Cokes at the drug store, Carrie cooks and cleans, but Jessie May accuses Carrie of losing her mind, she tells her to stop bustling around, and forbids her from singing the hymns that give her solace. Jessie May is interested in Carrie primarily for the pension cheque she brings in, but Carrie longs to return to the farm in Bountiful, the hamlet where she grew up and raised Ludie. So she makes a break for it.

Stylistic consistency is one of the most reliable markers of strong direction and the acting in Reed’s production is almost uniformly excellent.

It feels like Erla Faye Forsyth was born to play Carrie. Her performance is so thorough there’s not a hair out of place, metaphorically speaking. Every moment, every utterance, every movement is full of meaning. You can see Carrie’s drive in the way she scuttles about.  You can hear the years of love in the way she addresses Ludie. There’s flint in the rhythm of her reaction when someone advises her to stop worrying: “That’s a fine attitude if you can cultivate it.” And, when she says, “Jessie May hates me. I don’t know why,” there’s sorrow in the way her voice slides, defeated, into its lower register in the second sentence.

In its vulnerability, good intentions, and almost helpless passivity, Richard Meen’s embodiment of Ludie wrecked me. And I loved every minute of Cassie Unger’s work as Thelma, the young woman Carrie meets on the bus out of town: such honest, attentive, active listening.

Kapila Rego also achieves something astonishing — and unexpected: playing Jessie Mae, she finds the character’s charm in bursts of innocence, delight, and flashes of compassion.

In the staging and physical production, director Reed and his team have provided the perfect container for these performances.

In the script, Carrie sings hymns. Working with sound designer Rick Colhoun and choral leader Courtney Klassen, Reed has extended this into a soundscape that underlies the whole production, which starts with actor Mercedes Lovemore singing, “Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling …” Throughout the show, Lovemore’s unnamed character becomes Carrie’s companion, the unseen embodiment of the old woman’s faith. And, as the story progresses, Lovemore’s voice is joined in harmony by the voices of the many actors who are playing the other bus travellers, ticket agents, and so on.

Hans Saefkow’s flexible, stripped-down set, which features the stylized, weathered boards of Carrie’s house in Bountiful, and an understated, organic horizon line behind it, is gorgeous. Mark Carter’s lighting is gentle and warm. And the attention to detail in Rosie Aiken’s period costumes is rewarding. On the bus, Thelma’s green dress and pale pink accessories: ai yi yi.

Is The Trip To Bountiful thematically substantial? Well, it’s soaked in nostalgia and not particularly surprising. But it is an exploration of regret, accommodation — and resilience — at the end of a long life, and that’s more than enough for me. And, in 2024, the script has a different kind of resonance than it would have had in 1953. Near the end of the play, Carrie expresses her wonder at — and faith in — the cycles of nature and generational change. For me at least, that kind of faith is increasingly hard to come by. That’s an enormous loss.

THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL by Horton Foote. Directed by Ron Reed. On Thursday, April 4. A United Players production running at the Jericho Arts Centre until April 14. Tickets and information

PHOTO CREDIT: (Photo of Mercedes Lovemore and Erla Faye Forsyth by Nancy Caldwell)


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Copyright ©2024 Colin Thomas. All rights reserved.