Posted in Cicely Tyson, Cuba Goodng Jr, family drama, Horton Foote, The trip to Bountful, Vanessa Williams

This "Trip" Is More Than Worth The Fare!

Cicely Tyson is Mrs. Carrie Watts in  Horton Foote’s“The Trip To Bountiful.” Photo by Joan Marcus 

Home can have a powerful pull on a body.

Horton Foote’s “The Trip To Bountful,” at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre through July 7, is a tale of yearning to return.

Cicely Tyson as Mrs. Carrie Watts with Condola Rashid as Thelma in the revival of “The Trip To Bountiful.”
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Mrs. Carrie Watts (Cicely Tyson) wants to go back, away from the bickering old woman she’s become. Her frivolous daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams) provokes her to be her worst self. Ludie (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), her son, is sweet and ineffectual. Mrs. Watts’ life with them in a two-room apartment in  has her longing for her childhood home in Bountiful. The farm town may as well have been named in irony; there is nothing left of it since it’s soil blighted by overuse. To Mrs. Watts, it is a wonderful memory she longs to revisit before she dies.

Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“I think Ludie knows how I feel about getting back to Bountiful. Once when I was talking about something we did back there in the old days, he burst out crying. He was so overcome he had to leave the room,” she tells Thelma (Condola Rashid), a stranger who befriends her during her “escape” from Houston.

Cicely Tyson and Cuba Goofing, Jr. in “The Trip To Bountiful” in a photo by Joan Marcus.

In the interest of full disclosure, “The Trip To Bountiful” is a personal favorite among Horton Foote’s extensive repertoire. Foote’s first producd play dates back to 1941 with the off-Broadway production of  “Texas Town.” (A theme revisited in Primary Stages production of “Harrison, TX.”) Foote, who died in 2009, had a long and much-feted career, with many a Broadway hit; Foote was the recipient of numerous awards — including the one bestowed by the Academny of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Tom Wopat is charming in a small role as Sheriff . Photo by Joan Marcus.

This superb cast, anchored by the outstanding Cicely Tyson, with strong performances by Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. bring Foote’s lovely tale to its fullest flower.

Tyson’s many awards over her illustrious career, including Emmys and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Her Broadway appearances began in the late 1950s, as an understudy in “Jolly’s Progress,” and included the 1983 production of “The Corn is Green,” and a few performances (once as a host) at Tony celebrations over the years. There already is a lot of chatter suggesting she might win this year’s Tony!

You would not know it while watching Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s nuanced performance as Ludie that this is the Academy Award winner’s stage debut. On the other hand, Vanessa Williams, a multi-Grammy award winner, has plenty of experience acting in theater; in 2002, she got a Tony nod for her portrayal of the Witch in the revival of the Sondheim “Into The Woods.” Up-and-comer Condola Rashid,  Tony-nominated for her role in “Stick Fly” in 2012, doles out a pitch-perfect performance.

When we come to Bountiful, the scenic design by Jeff Cowie is bucolically pictorial, giving a pastoral beauty to the town of Mrs. Watts’ memories. For lovers of the technical, there is a suspended cross-section
of a travelling bus, under the supervision of Hudson Theatrical Associates.  In Houston, Cowie’s set describes the oppression of a cramped apartment, giving the stars a small space in which to work. The Watts’ ground floor is overladen with the darkened windows of neighbors above them. Note the nod to the color of the casting, and the times of the play, set in Texas in 1953, in the sign pointing to the White Waiting Room at the bus depot.

Under Michael Wilson’s direction, there isn’t a misstep in the journey of “The Trip To Bountiful.” Go and spend an evening travelling in the world Horton Foote has created.

For more information on “The Trip To Bountiful,” please go to The Trip To Bountiful on Broadway.

Posted in ensemble acting, family affair, Harrison, Horton Foote, three short plays, TX

"Harrison, TX…" Delves Deeply Into Human Frailty and Strength

Tony Award nominee Jayne Houdyshell
(for Follies and Well) speaks about her current role in “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages.
The places in which we grew up have stories to tell.

Evan Jonigkeit, Hallie Foote, Andrea Lynn Green, Devon Abner in “Blind Date” from “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. © 2012 James Leynse.
At least that’s true if you’re Horton Foote, whose first play, “Texas Town” was produced off-Broadway in 1941. And his favorite Texas town was the fictional “Harrison, TX” which stood in for his birthplace of Wharton in many of his plays.

In “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote,” a bundled compiliation of works written at different times, at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters through  September 15th, Foote’s subtle and sincere character sketches are minutely drawn. Each play on the program quickly captures the essence of its characters.

The accomplished cast, led by Horton Foote’s eldest daughter, Hallie (a Tony-nominee for her work in her father’s “Dividing The Estate,” which premiered at Primary Stages before its Broadway transfer), convey the poignancy and humor in these brief tales. This production is something of a family affair, featuring Hallie Foote’s husband, Devon Abner, himself a veteran of other Horton Foote productions and an ensemble many of whom  have also appeared in other Foote plays.

The first of the three plays is the sweetly funny “Blind Date,” which has Dolores (Hallie Foote) fussing over her truculent niece, Sarah Nancy (Andrea Lynn Green.) Green’s clumping Sarah Nancy is delightful.

There are some particularly sharp insights into the avuncular C.W. Rowe (Jeremy Bobb), the executive in “The One-Armed Man,” part two on the bill, whose sense of charity is shaded by his self-importance.

Jeremy Bobb and Devon Abner in “The One-Armed Man” from  “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. © 2012 James Leynse.

“The Midnight Caller” is a wistful look at winners and losers in love. In it, Miss Rowena Douglas (Jayne Houdyshell) is incurably romantic, staring at fireflies and the harvest moon from the windows of the boarding house she shares with two other women. Alma Jean Jordan (Mary Bacon) and “Cutie” Spencer (Andrea Lynn Green, showing her versatility), stenographers in the local courthouse, each resigned in her own way to spinsterhood. When their landlady, Mrs. Crawford (Hallie Foote) takes in new boarders, Helen Crews (Jenny Dare Paulin) and a gentlemen, Mr. Ralph Johnston (Jeremy Bobb) scandal enters their parlor. Helen’s former lover, Harvey Weems (Alexander Cendese) crys out into the night for a love lost while another love blossoms.

Clockwise from left: Jayne Houdyshell, Mary Bacon, Jeremy Bobb, Andrea Lynn Green, Jenny Dare Paulin, and Alexander Cendese in “The Midnight Caller” from “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote” at Primary Stages at 59E59 Theaters. © 2012 James Leynse.

Everything in the Pam McKinnon-helmed production is dry and spare. Marion Williams has made some excellent choices in the scenic design, using a simple and versatile staircase to help delineate and define the small space in each of the three short works. The costumes by Kate Voyce elegantly reflect the time periods – 1928 for the first two and 1952 for the last- of each story.

Understanding the heart and soul is an attribute of the greatest philosopher-writers. It’s not for nothing that Horton Foote has been referred to as the American Anton Chekhov. He is plainspoken and straightforward, yet sees the nuances and foibles in humanity.In 1996, Foote was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame, just one among his many honors which included two Academy Awards and a Pulitzer.

To find out more about “Harrison, TX: Three Plays by Horton Foote,” please visit