The Trip to Bountiful Shows Talent, Heart and Dedication

The set-up:

This is an extraordinary vehicle for an actress of a certain age - it won Geraldine Page an Oscar - and Elaine Edstrom as Carrie Watts, aging and ill and with the final wish to visit once more her childhood country home, finds the heart and strength to carry the play to ultimate triumph.  

The play, by award-winning Texas-born playwright Horton Foote, who died two years ago at the age of 92, is now running at Houston Family Arts Center. It's old-fashioned, in the best sense of having traditional values, and in the negative sense that the first act, which consists of exposition to bring us up to date, and family bickering, takes 50 minutes -- a contemporary writer could cover the same ground in five.

The execution:

Foote created a memorable character in Carrie, but used less subtlety in the other major characters, Carrie's soft-spined son Ludie (J. Blanchard) and his shrewish wife Jessie Mae (Stephanie Morris); director Sedric Willis hasn't found a way to make them three-dimensional.

Everything is spelled out, both in script and body language, as though the audience were mentally challenged - unnecessary in this intimate theater, itself a gem, proscenium stage and tiered seating with great sightlines, where a raised eyebrow would do as well as a raised fist. Even Edstrom as Carrie makes sure we "get" everything.

She is ably supported by Morris and Blanchard -- though I wish the director had him look a lot less at the floor, a sign of shame -- and by Reagan Lukefahr as a bus-mate. I especially liked Anita Darby in a small part she made interesting, and Jeff Brown as a sheriff with a heart. The other minor roles were well-acted.

The costumes by Michel Brown Stevens appeared authentic, the sets were necessarily simple but highly effective, and changes were handled adroitly.

The execution:

The vehicle itself is showing its age, and the direction is a bit heavy-handed, but this did not inhibit the standing ovation, for the second act seeks to tug at our heart-strings, and succeeds admirably.

The theater lacks an imposing façade - it is in a strip mall - but its talent, heart and dedication point the way to the pearl within.

The play runs through May 8 at Houston Family Arts Center, 10760 Grant Road. For tickets, call 281-685-6374.

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Jim Tommaney