Playwright Horton Foote, who died in 2009 at the age of 92, is making a long overdue debut at the Cincinnati Playhouse with The Trip to Bountiful. (The show began as a 1953 play for television; it became a stage play in 1962 and an award-winning film in 1985.) In this script, the prolific writer (in addition to more than 50 plays, he wrote screenplays for films such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies) crafted a deeply heartfelt paean to the notion that “There's no place like home.” It’s the story of an elderly Texas widow pining for a final visit to her birthplace.
For the Playhouse, director Timothy Douglas has changed things up by through an African-American filter, casting veteran actress Lizan Mitchell as the elderly but spirited Carrie Watts. She’s a dream of an actress, portraying a tiny cyclone of energy, busily trotting around her apartment, slyly making plans to escape. In Mitchell’s commanding performance, Carrie has a wry sense of humor and a clear-eyed vision of what she most desires. “I want to go home,” she insists, yearning for a chance to reconnect with her roots one last time.
The cast includes Tyrone Mitchell Henderson as her mild-mannered, fretful son, and Rachel Leslie as his impatient, self-centered wife. Shannon Dorsey offers a lovely portrait of a young woman who becomes Carrie’s thoughtful traveling companion on a long bus ride. Stephen Bradbury is a kindly sheriff, and Doug Brown is a helpful man at the bus station.
The story is nothing too innovative: Carrie runs away from the cramped Houston apartment she shares uncomfortably with her son and his domineering wife to return to her girlhood home in a town that’s beautiful in her memory, but deserted after years of neglect. Foote’s lyrical writing — Carrie’s recollection of nights under a full moon (a glowing, three-dimensional one hangs above the set designed by Tony Cisek) and a rhapsodic enumeration of birds to be found in the marsh lands around the Texas Gulf town — is gorgeous, and his sense of the characters he creates is both natural and profound. Above all, the simple truth and dignity of the tale, as well as Mitchell’s luminous performance, make this show worth seeing.
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL , presented by the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through April 7.