Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Robinette, recipient of five Helen Hayes Awards and one of the Washington area's most beloved actresses, gives an indelible depiction of Carrie Watts, an older woman stuck in a cramped Houston apartment in 1953 with her son and daughter-in-law and yearning to visit the small Texas town where she grew up. She has dealt with a lot of tragedy and heartache, which she describes in brief conversations with strangers, and just wants to reconnect with the rural life she left 20 years earlier when a lack of jobs required her family to relocate from tiny Bountiful to the city.
The three of them living in that two-room apartment isn't good for anyone: not Carrie's son Ludie (Joe Mallon), returning to work after a long illness and exhausted by life; not Ludie's wife Jessie Mae (Kimberly Gilbert), who fills her days with movie magazines, bottles of Coca-Cola from the drugstore, and resentment; and not Carrie, who eases her loneliness by singing hymns, to her daughter-in-law's exasperation.
If Carrie were played as a blameless, saintly woman, she would be insufferable. Robinette brings out the slyness and humor that allows her to get around the barriers Jessie Mae tries to set on her behavior. Carrie's pension check hasn't arrived on time? Innocent bewilderment on Robinette's face. A requirement that she not leave the apartment while Jessie Mae visits a friend? "I understand. A rule is a rule," she says with a crafty smile.
Scenic designer Tim Mackabee has taken an impressionistic approach, beginning with the oppressive crowding of the Houston apartment, shifting to the more spacious and sparsely furnished bus stations of Carrie's travels, and at last to the tall marsh grass and distant river that are all that remain of the abandoned town. (Carrie sees the house where she grew up, so the audience sees it too.)
Mallon is stalwart as a put-upon man frustrated by mediating between his mother and his wife, while Gilbert does the best she can in an unlikable role. Christopher Bloch and Marty Lodge provide sweet grace notes as, respectively, a small-town bus station manager and a sympathetic sheriff.
The Trip to Bountiful runs through October 16, 2022, at Ford's Theatre, 511 Tenth St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-347-4833 or visit fords.org.
By Horton Foote
Mrs. Carrie Watts: Nancy Robinette