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THEATER REVIEW: New Village Arts’ “The Trip To Bountiful”

“It doesn’t do any good to remember.” -- Ludie Watts

For Carrie Watts (Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson), an old woman who grew up in rural Bountiful but no longer able to live alone, the past five years in a too-small Houston apartment with her ineffectual son Ludie (Walter Murray) and shrewish daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Yolanda Franklin) have been a trial, and memory is the most pleasant part of her existence.

Mrs. Watts spends her days puttering around the apartment, cleaning, cooking and humming an old hymn (which drives Jessie Mae to distraction, or at least to griping).

The old woman longs to return home one last time before she dies. In fact, she’s attempted it several times (intending to stay with childhood friend Callie Davis), but has always been foiled by Jessie Mae, who treats her like an annoying pet whom she would gladly put out to pasture if she could.

But Ludie is an inadequate provider, and the old lady’s pension check is needed to keep the household going and pay for Jessie Mae’s trips to the hair salon and movie theaters.

“The Trip To Bountiful,” Horton Foote’s bittersweet story of Mrs. Watts’ last trip home, gets a lovely production through March 3 at New Village Arts Theatre.

Kristianne Kurner directs and dedicates this show to the memory of longtime local actor Sandra Ellis-Troy, who was slated to play Mrs. Watts before her untimely death in 2010. Kurner shelved the piece, not expecting to find another actor who could play the role as well. She changed her mind when she saw Thompson in Moxie Theatre’s “Raisin In The Sun” last year (local theater critics named Thompson best actress for that role).

“The Trip To Bountiful” was originally written in 1953 as a one-hour teleplay and later adapted for both stage and screen; Lilllian Gish took home the Oscar for the film version.

This production is done with a mixed-race cast (as it has been twice before), but skin color doesn’t matter. This is about home, family and making peace with life.

Thompson will break your heart as the caged bird who must learn that her life is no longer her own to command.

Murray (in the thankless role of the milquetoast Ludie) manages to signal the annoyance he only shows late in the play.

Franklin talked a bit too fast and wasn’t completely in control of her lines on opening night, but I’d bet her Jessie Mae has settled in by now.

Several other roles are handled with polish. Alexis Louise Young is fine as Thelma, a young woman with whom Mrs. Watts shares a bus ride. David Macy-Beckwith makes a fine, even compassionate Sheriff.

Brenon Christofer and John Tessmer acquit themselves well in two and three small parts, respectively.

“The Trip To Bountiful” is an old-fashioned three-act play, with two intermissions necessitated by complete set changes. Consequently, the show runs two hours, 45 minutes. It’s worth every minute.

The details

“The Trip to Bountiful” plays through March 3 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets: (760) 433-3245 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.