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Reviewed by Jeanne Hartman

The Trip To Bountiful Photo 1

A trip to bountiful is a trip theatergoers should take more than once and you have a chance to do so at The Group Rep in North Hollywood, California, from now until  March 6th.   Many will have seen the play, The Trip to Bountiful, since it premiered in 1953 and may also have enjoyed the film and Geraldine Page’s performance, which won her the Academy Award that year.  If you have seen the play or the film, that should not keep you from going to this performance; it will be another wonderful experience.  

Horton Foote’s story set in the 1940s is as poignant today as it was when he wrote it.  Carrie Watts who dreams of returning to her childhood home of Bountiful Texas, lives with her son and his wife in Houston and she longs to return to a time when her life seemed more meaningful. As is the case in all of our lives, the story is the journey.

A play such as The Trip to Bountiful relies upon the relationship of the characters; people draw you into their lives, their fears, their flaws and remind who remind us of your own family complexities.  

In the lead role of Carrie Watts, Gwen Van Dam brings many years of fine work and experience.  Since she has big shoes to fill, Geraldine Page (the film) and Lillian Gish (the play), Ms. Van Dam chooses rightly so to make her own path and use her own assets and experiences.   She brings a sweetness and vulnerability to the role.  You will love to watch her and travel this important journey with her. 

The most soul-stirring scene occurs in the second act between Thelma played by Liza de Weerd, and Carrie as they wait for the bus.  It is such a pleasure to watch two female characters that truly touch your heart.  Neither of the women ever push the sentimental moments and because they do not push the emotion, the audience is allowed to fulfill their own emotional experience.

This play is about family relationships and in the first act you are allowed to peek into the private lives of three family members, Ludie and Jessie Mae Watts and Ludie’s mother, Carrie.   The battle between the daughter-in-law and mother-in-law puts Ludie in the middle and it is as though he is serving two masters and not doing very well with either one. 

One of the most difficult parts of creating a play is making sure that the audience believes the family relationships from the very top of the show.  At first this reviewer thought that these relationships still needed to be more developed from the three family members.   Although each actor was handling the text and the action it seemed that they needed to work more on how they relate to each other.   Perhaps that was the goal of Horton Foote.  Even though it seemed that the three family members were strangers and not family members in the first act, after thinking about the situation that Foote created it seems that might very well be what Foote wants the audience to feel.  So ultimately the reality of the chasm among these three people was what the audience needed to feel and the actors accomplished this.    Sometimes watching characters struggle makes the audience struggle. This is what live theater can do for people even more than film or novels or God forbid, reality shows.

Gina Yates handles the role of Jessie Mae Watts with courage and abandonment.  Jessie Mae stands by her beliefs that no matter how harsh and self-serving they may seem.   You come to the realization that she is fighting just as hard for what she believes, as is Carrie.  

Kent Butler as Ludie brings the awkwardness of a man caught between two people whom he loves.  He embodies that man in this time period, a man who lives with the weight of his sense of failure.

The rest of the cast handle their roles in a beautiful supportive way, as they make the effort to create the time period and to support the story in style and in detail.  The kindness of strangers in this trip to Bountiful is beautifully portrayed by each of the following cast members, Henry Holden, Patrick Skelton, Stan Mazin and Bert Emmett. 

Director, Larry Eisenberg, scenic designer Mark Macauley, costumer designer Cheryl Butler and the rest of the production team create a charming world for the actors.  Some of the set changes appeared not to be necessary and they made the changes longer however, the final product certainly found a way to support the story. 

For those who have yearned to “go home again,” and who wonder if what they are missing, might still be there, this production of The Trip To Bountiful is the play for you.

Watching wonderful actors in a poignant story can help to instill the height of emotion in all of us.   A trip to one’s hometown may not be possible, but sharing Carrie’s journey to Bountiful gives the audience a sense of what it might be like for them and who knows perhaps some of them will decide to go.  Meanwhile enjoy this trip to Bountiful.

The Group Rep presents The Trip to Bountiful at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood through March 6, 2011.  For tickets and information go to www.thegrouprep.com. 

Photo: Liza De Weerd and Gwen Van Dam


Contributing writer JEANNE HARTMAN, the Actors Detective, coaches  professional actors in Los Angeles and teaches actors, directors and writers  in Hong Kong.  She can be contacted at www.JeanneHartmanActorsDetective.com. 

Her book, The Right Questions for Actors, is written in an inter-active book style that supports actors. Veteran actors call it their “new Bible” when it comes to preparing for auditions.  It is available at her website and on Amazon.

Her studies at the Juilliard School, and with Lawrence Parke, Barbara Loden, Mark Travis and training at Centre Lyrique Int’l with Lotfi Mansouri add to Ms. Hartman’s ability to discover which technique is best for each student.  Ms. Hartman’s acting experience on stage across the country, and  in front of the camera, prepared her to become a respected acting coach and teacher in demand by actors, directors, writers, agents, managers and producers.