On Theater: Enjoy 'Bountiful' journey on SCR stage

Home is where the heart is, and in Horton Foote's masterful play "The Trip to Bountiful," home is pretty much a state of mind, a memory that exists only in the reverie of its central character.

South Coast Repertory is taking "The Trip to Bountiful" and it's a beautifully involving journey. Director Martin Benson, who had a personal history with Foote and his works before the playwright died in 2009 at 92, has crafted the production with immeasurable care and concern.

The play's heroine is Carrie Watts, an aging widow who lives with her son and daughter-in-law in a cramped Houston apartment but yearns to return, if only for a brief visit, to her roots in Bountiful, Texas, where trains and buses no longer stop and the town's existence is a mystery even to station agents.

Just why she's so nostalgic about Bountiful is evident in the play's opening segment as she's shown enduring a virtual servant's life with a taciturn son and his fiercely controlling wife. Soon this plucky lady sets out on her own (it isn't her first such venture, but she's always been caught and returned), this time outwitting her pursuers.

It's a difficult and demanding role, and one performed brilliantly by Lynn Milgrim, who does full justice to the character that won Geraldine Page an Oscar back in 1985. Her Carrie strives with limited mobility but unlimited zeal, vying for an independence long denied her in a bravura portrayal.

Daniel Reichert is a bit more difficult to fathom as the strong but silent son, tackling a new job after two years of an unexplained illness. His reticence becomes an identifiable character trait, particularly when contrasted with his wife, a harridan with a heart, however well disguised.

That would be Jennifer Lyon in a magnificent performance as this unsympathetic yet understandable woman who rules the Houston roost (even her mother-in-law calls her "ma'am"). Lyon brings this complex character to richly detailed life with persistent personal power.

Among the play's fringe characters, Lily Holleman is most memorable as the young woman who shares the bus ride with Milgrim's character. It's a low-key role, but Holleman effortlessly brings out its warmth, richness and sincerity.

SCR founding artists Richard Doyle as a helpful station agent and Hal Landon Jr. as a kindly small-town sheriff infuse the production with fine helpings of local color. Tom Shelton and Mark Coyan complete the cast as bus station ticket agents, though several wordless background characters are employed as atmospheric touches.

Benson, co-founder of SCR with David Emmes back in 1964, has long been the theater's premier director and this production is among his finest. Foote's lifelong affection for plain, down-to-earth people is magnified in Benson's craftsmanship of character.

The play's multiple settings, by Thomas Buderwitz, are impressive in their minute detail, particularly the final scene in which Carrie's old homestead is presented in all its ramshackle glory. Angela Balogh Calin's costumes and the lighting designs of Donna and Tom Ruzika complete a picture approaching perfection.

Come take "The Trip to Bountiful." It's an engrossing journey with extraordinary performances that rank among the year's most noteworthy achievements at South Coast Repertory.


Orange Coast College will present a musical theater workshop at 8 p.m. Saturday in the Robert B. Moore Theater.

The show, performed by students in Beth Hansen's advanced performance class, will feature songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, including "South Pacific," "Oklahoma" and "The King and I."

Tickets, priced at $10, may be reserved by calling (714) 432-5880 or going online at http://www.occtickets.com. They also will be available at the door. OCC is at 2701 Fairview Road, Costa Mesa.

TOM TITUS covers the local theater scene for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "The Trip to Bountiful"

Where: South Coast Repertory Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: At 7:30 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays matinees until Nov. 20

Cost: $20-$68

Call: (714) 708-5555

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