Friday, March 26, 2004

Bittersweet tale of aging
reaps bountiful rewards

The horrors of aging, and the regrets that can come when reviewing the choices made in life, are explored in engaging style by director Sharon Adair and three exceptional actors in the Actors Group production of "The Trip to Bountiful." The story is set in the 1940s, but the experiences Carrie Watts, her son Ludie and her daughter-in-law transcend remain relevant.

"The Trip to Bountiful"

Presented by the Actors Group at Yellow Brick Studio, 625 Keawe St.

When: Runs 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through April 18

Tickets: $10

Call: 722-6941, or e-mail

Carrie has become a barely tolerated presence in her married son's cramped apartment in postwar Houston. Carrie sings hymns when she's happy and remains silent when she's not. Both traits irk her childless daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, who's burdened and increasingly uncomfortable with the task of keeping an eye on her. Jessie Mae would like a little more privacy with her husband and puts up with Carrie primarily because of her monthly pension check, which pays for a bit more than her keep.

Ludie is also frustrated, torn between his wife and mother. Ludie lost his job due to a lengthy illness and has only recently been able to start over at another company. He'd like to give Jessie Mae more than a cramped apartment and an occasional night out at the movies after 20 years of marriage. He's invested some of his hard-earned money in a self-improvement book but isn't sure the time is right to ask his boss for a raise.

Carrie longs to escape her unhappy existence and return to the family farm in Bountiful, a town that has become so much of the past that it no longer appears on maps or bus schedules. She sold off most of it when her father died -- the land was played out anyway -- and used the money to pay for Ludie's education. Now she wants to see her childhood home, listen to the birds and grab up handfuls of dirt. Ludie and Jessie Mae must remain vigilant to foil her travel plans.

The interplay between Carrie, Ludie and Jessie Mae makes Act 1 simultaneously painful and bittersweet.

Jo Pruden (Carrie) again shows her skill at playing soft and vulnerable characters in taking on the most demanding of the three roles without becoming either saint or martyr.

Playwright Horton Foote allows other perspectives on Carrie to emerge as the story continues and the back-stories are revealed, and while we remain sympathetic with Carrie's plight, Ludie and Jessie Mae become three-dimensional characters as well as they struggle with the responsibility of watching over Carrie and deal with their small desires and looming fears.

Holly Holowach (Jessie Mae) quickly becomes the designated villain in Act 1 but successfully brings out other elements of the character. Jessie Mae's treatment of her mother-in-law is unconscionable, but Holowach's attention to the subtleties of the role ensures that the complexities of the relationship, and Jessie Mae's understandable longings for privacy, spontaneity and a few small pleasures, come through as well.

TAG veteran Patrick Casey (Ludie) has sacrificed his beard and dyed his hair to make himself visually believable as a man entering his middle age. The sacrifices pay off. Casey gets deep into the character to play perfectly a man battered by life and hesitant to tempt fate by asking for a raise at work or laying down the law at home. Casey makes Ludie's sense of being on uncertain footing evident throughout Act 1 and provides an important benchmark for appreciating a pivotal moment in Act 2.

Rasa Radha Fournier (Thelma) stands out among the supporting cast as a compassionate young soldier's wife who helps Carrie on her odyssey. Thelma has everything Carrie has lost: a home, a loving family, a future and the man of her dreams. (Carrie confides that she married a man she admired but did not love because her father would not allow her to marry the man she loved; the man she wanted then married another woman "out of spite," as she recalls.)

TAG veteran Sam Polson adds a second soothing performance in this generally dark and depressing story as the compassionate sheriff who helps Carrie during the final stages of her journey. Billy Shackley makes a welcome return to local theater in a tertiary role as a bus station ticket agent. Patrick Allegro, Ryan Calder, Carole Cooper, Jay Hebrank, Melissa Richardson, Jeanette Roberts and Rachel Schack complete the cast.

Adair and her three leads make the final scene memorable and as balanced as the first. Once again, Carrie, Ludie and Jessie Mae bump heads, but this time we see how much they've grown and apparently come to terms with their lives.

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