In the opening night buzz of the audience at The Cape Fear Regional Theatre’s much anticipated The Trip to Bountiful, words of love and expressions of pride flowed from many people who waited patiently with programs in hand. They were ready to take a ride; patiently waiting for the stage to open and the stage lights to come up so they could begin their trip. The anticipation was understandable, as the cast was comprised of some of the theatre’s favorite veteran actors. Already spellbound, the audience waited to take the trip to see and experience a place called “Bountiful.”
Their first destination: Houston, Texas, 1953. Directed by Anne Scarbrough, the story revolves around an elderly, yet spry woman, Carrie Watts played by Bo Thorp, who is also waiting patiently in her rocking chair, watching traffic – forlorn and spiritless. She is living in an apartment under the watchful eyes of her overprotective son, Ludie Watts (Greg King), and his controlling wife, Jessie Mae Watts (Libby McNeill Seymour). Carrie may seem lost, but it soon becomes evident that she is storing energy to begin an adventure; a trip back to her hometown of Bountiful, Texas.
There is a struggle between mother, son and daughter-in-law that echoes in many relationships; however, the audience can still relate to the uniqueness of each character as it was brought to life with striking precision and emotional clarity by the actors.
King gives an honest and paradoxical performance as Ludie, who tries his best to talk some sense into his mother who is consumed with making a trip back to the homestead where she was raised. It is with a fine balance of deep care and exasperation that King gives relevancy to the character, ensuring that the audience understands his deep love and concern for his aging mother, which is sometimes overshadowed by his need to appease the relentless complaints and narcissism of his wife.
Seymour plays the domineering Jessie Mae with amazing ease. She expertly walks the fine line between domineering and comical. She demonstrates great finesse with this character; by making the audience sympathize with her, while still wanting to wring her neck for her greed in taking the elderly Carrie’s pension, which she spends frivolously on Coca-colas from the drugstore. In the next instant, we laughed at her exact comic timing as she dim-wittedly proclaims her need for celebrity-lifestyle magazines and her beauty parlor addiction.
Thorp gives a resounding performance as Carrie Watts. We see a woman who seems discouraged and hopeless at first, yet with each step she takes in her journey to visit Bountiful, she becomes a more spirited, tenacious and energetic woman. Thorp plays the role with will and urgency, while remaining endearing and sometimes comical. This is a true testament to her seasoned and crafted acting chops. Thorp’s return to the stage has long been awaited by patrons of the Cape Fear Regional Theatre. The last time we got to see her tread the boards was in 2012 in her endearing portrayal of Ethel Thayer in On Golden Pond. Thorp strikes a bullseye with every word, nuance and movement and she makes it very easy for the audience to care deeply about all of her character’s motives and feelings.
One great comical moment is her escape from her family at the bus station. Thorp conjured up a Lucille Ball-like moment, wearing the janitor’s cap and uniform while dusting and shooting across the stage to dodge the grasp of Ludie and Jessie Mae, who want to take her home.
Thorp deftly juxtaposes hilarity with a heart-felt moment while befriending a young lady named Thelma (Michelle Zaun) who is also taking a bus. Zaun plays the freshness of a new military wife whose husband has just left for service superbly. You witness the sweetness that Thelma brings to Carrie, which in turn contrasts Carrie’s interaction with Thelma as opposed to Jessie Mae. Carrie, when treated with dignity, becomes even stronger and more committed to her journey.
Arriving in Bountiful, Carrie finds her childhood home dilapidated and weather-worn. There is a moment that hit my soul with such compassion when Carrie grabs dirt from the ground around the house and shoves it in her purse. The purpose and determination that we saw in Carrie’s decision to make the trip reverberates in this moment and allows us to realize that the grit and determination that put her on her path was steadfast in her character throughout the play.
Upon finding Carrie, Ludie and Jessie Mae are both concerned and vexed; however, the journey has not left them untouched. There is a newfound sense of harmony as we see each one finding new meaning in their journey, which creates a truce between them.
I would be remiss not to mention the simple, yet brilliant set design executed by designer Kimberly Powers, scenic artist David Rawlins and technical director James Rogers. There were specific moments when I heard audible gasps from the audience when moving set pieces transported actors into scenes, like the bus that Carrie and Thelma were riding juxtaposed against a dazzling starry night. Likewise, the apartment in Houston disappears and the bus station appears as the stage seems to shift and fold like origami art to reveal scene transitions.
Take a trip to the Cape Fear Regional Theatre to see this eloquent, inspiring and powerful piece of storytelling. The Trip to Bountiful will leave you inspired with a heartfelt spirt that stays with you for a long while.