When considering The Trip to Bountiful, the revival that opened earlier this evening at the Stephen Sondheim Theater, both the OCC and DL noms validated what I already knew about the show - that it is pretty spectacular.
And it had no right to be either. This Horton Foote play is competent, but it is not exactly a set-the-world-on-fire kind of show with its whiny, occasionally selfish and internally conflicted protagonist (if you can call it that, at first) Carrie. What's worse - the resolution isn't exactly one of articulation (how do you cure old age problems? By visiting your decrepit, childhood home for 15 minutes, of course!).
Regardless of the writing's...we'll call them "inadequacies," the rest of the show sells the hell out of it. And engaged I was - I gasped at Van Broughton Ramsey's period costumes and Jeff Cowie's stunning set designs, particularly Carrie's home in Bountiful. I understood why Carrie wanted to return home so badly - the sunset backdrop, the vast terrain and the artfully tattered house complete the portrait of a house you would want to wake up in every morning and look at the views from the porch.
The show's greatest assets are its performances, Cicely Tyson in particular. She brings new ground to the character of Carrie by not making her completely insufferable. We are in tune to every emotion she feels and when she finally hits the road, her character's optimism, determination and ambition is so infectious, the audience would audibly cheer for her if it weren't proper theater etiquette. And there were moments when Tyson had me crying in my seat with heart-warming and heart-breaking moments. Yeah, she done good.
Vanessa Williams is also delightful and sinisterly funny as Jessie Mae, the controlling daughter-in-law chewing the scenery whenever she is has a line to deliver. Condola Rashad turns up about halfway through as the girl who becomes intertwined with Carrie's travels and just like her character, she is a breath of fresh air and soft-spoken elegance. Both women could not be more gorgeous in period styling too.
The one weak spot (other than the "enh" at times writing) would be Cuba Gooding Jr.'s casting as Ludie, the spineless worker bee caught in-between his feuding wife and mother. I don't know if he was trying to give Jessica Chastain a run for her money in the "special needs" performance of the season...but if he was, nice job buddy! Otherwise, much like this fall's Golden Boy, The Trip to Bountiful is an emotionally-charged, stylish revival featuring a bunch of star turns from a (mostly) talented ensemble. It probably isn't your first choice of show while in line at TKTS or looking to rush a show, especially with a bunch of heavyweight shows opening or on the verge of opening, but this is one that shouldn't be missed.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus