From June 1-17, Theatrikos Theatre Company and director Nancy Wonders bring to life award-winning playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote’s tenderly written story of the myth of home, The Trip to Bountiful, at the Doris Harper-White Community Playhouse.
Foote, who is perhaps best known for his 1962 screenplay for Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, builds his stories in the subtleties of life, the quiet rage, anger, heartbreak, love, hope or loss stirring beneath our relationships. With more than 50 plays and three original screenplays, Foote’s body of work lives on as an homage to rural life in small-town America.
Set in the 1940s and somewhat based off of Foote’s hometown of Wharton, Texas, Carrie Watts (Linda Sutera), an elderly woman who suffers from “sinking spells” as a result of a bad heart, is stuck living in the cramped apartment of her son, Ludie (Scott Ballou), and his wife, Jessie Mae (Becky Daggett). Coming to terms with her mortality and with only a few dollars and a pension check, which she is hiding from Jessie Mae, Carrie sets out by bus to Bountiful, a place it seems no one has heard of, in an attempt to recapture youth and the past, to find her home.
“Home for her is not just a place, a small little place called Bountiful, but it’s a memory of a time long ago, a passed time in a way we can never return to,” says Wonders. “The story is about the claustrophobic, crowded feeling she has of living with her family and her desire to go back to this place of memory.”
Originally written for television and premiered on NBC in March of 1953, The Trip to Bountiful was adapted for a Broadway production in December that same year. Later in 1985, the play was adapted by Foote for a film version directed by Peter Masterson and starring Geraldine Page as Carrie.
Wonders says she saw the film shortly after her grandmother had passed and “it moved me beyond measure.”
“My grandma was born in the late 1800s, and she reminds me so much of Carrie, because she was someone who would always talk about the fact that she’d have to walk to school and remembers the transition for horse and buggy to car, and she would always talk about this farm she grew up on,” says the director. “After she died, I couldn’t get home for her funeral, so it was about my longing for home, and it was about this woman’s longing, but this woman reminded me so much of my grandma.”
Because of her emotional connection and the already delicate story, Wonders is crafting the play to remain true to Foote’s themes of home, aging and relationships while changing it where necessary to maintain relevancy. She says while the story talks of the move in the late ‘40s and early ’50s from rural to city life, messages in The Trip to Bountiful have potential to resonate with contemporary audiences, especially on the topic of mobility.
"We are always moving. I think people find themselves often longing for home and a place to settle,” says Wonders. “Flagstaff is one of those places where we all think about the value of place and how beautiful it is to be here, and I think that there are people everywhere who have that longing for a place that they can love, but truly it never stays the same. It just keeps changing.”
Wonders’ production of The Trip to Bountiful is a faithful rendition of a classic tale of home and heart. The set design that shifts, unfolds and unravels is a physical representation of the complicated internal lives of her characters, always shifting and turning, always searching for that place we call home.
“Maybe it’s an old-fashioned saying, but home is where the heart is. You make home by loving places, that’s true, but also by loving people, and you have to find pathways to love the people that you’re in daily existence with,” says Wonders. “I think there is a realization by the end of the play that I think will move people to think about their own relationships, to think about how they think about home.”
The power in The Trip to Bountiful comes from the relationships between Carrie, Ludie, Jessie Mae and the cast of characters she encounters on her way to Bountiful. Take the role of Thelma, played by Audrey Young, who befriends Carrie while on her way home to live with her parents after her husband goes to war, a young woman forced to live with her parents again. The parallels between her and Carrie’s situation is not a coincidence, and it’s the subtlety and sentimentality of their exchange on the bus that leads to the most thought-provoking and insightful moments of the play.
“I seek out plays that are about relationships,” says Wonders. “And I really love working with actors to develop authentic and believable relationships that touch us, that resonate with our own experiences, that make us feel more fully human.”
The Trip to Bountiful premiers on Friday June 1, followed by a post-show reception with the cast. Performances will be held through June 17 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $13-24 plus fees, and you can purchase yours at the box office, by calling 774-1662 or online at www.theatrikos.com.