By: Patrick Christiano
The veteran actress Cicely Tyson is simply wonderful in the Broadway revival of Horton Foot’s sentimental American classic The Trip to Bountiful. The actress was Halle Foot’s first and only choice to play the homesick Carrie Watts in the first African/American version of her father’s inspirational tale. Tyson plays Carrie, a senior citizen trapped in her son Ludie’s cramped Houston apartment with his over bearing wife, dreaming of a return to her idyllic home in the small Gulf Coast town of Bountiful, where she grew up and raised her family.
Reportedly Foot said the play wouldn’t come to The Great White Way without Tyson, who hasn’t set foot on a stage in over 30 years. The good news is that Tyson is glowingly radiant and completely natural on stage. Vanessa Williams plays her acerbic daughter-in-law Jessie Mae, while Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. making his Broadway debut plays her beloved son Ludie torn between pleasing his wife and helping his mother.
Feeling she is a burden to her son and frustrated by her over demanding daughter-in law Carrie longs to return to Bountiful. She concocts a plan to sneak away with her latest pension check and heads to the bus station for a bittersweet journey that is made more memorable by Tyson’s heartfelt gradually accumulating performance that leaves a memorable afterglow.
Set in Houston in 1953 the play is a simple story about the widowed pensioner Carrie Watts longing to escape home to the kind and sweet world she remembers in Bountiful, a place where she can once again sing the hymns that Jessie Mae forbids her to sing in Houston. The tale is a sweet reminder of the fundamental truths that run through all of the playwright’s eloquent Texas stories. Our past and where we come from informs who we are, and that past is never far from our thoughts.
If the current handsome production under Michael Wilson direction doesn’t delve deeply enough into the conflicts and layers of the story blame the clichéd performances of Williams and Gooding. They come off as easy to dislike, and the deck feels stacked, but Carrie has always been a showcase role for actresses, Lillian Gish in 1953 and Geraldine Page, who won an Oscar in the 1985 film. So there is little surprise that Tyson with her inherent grace, dignity and clever humor makes the evening beautifully endearing. Her scenes with the up and coming actress Condola Rashad, who delivers a beautifully restrained performance as Thelma a young soldier’s wife she meets at the bus station are magical.
The award winning creative team has interpreted a number of plays and films by Horton Foote: Jeff Cowi (scenery), Van Broughton Ramsey (costumes), Rui Rita (lighting), and John Gromada (original music and sound design).
The Trip to Bountiful is now playing at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre 124 West 43rd Street. For tickets call 212-239-6200 or go to www.thetriptobountifulbroadway.com