United Players
The Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote

When and Where March 22 – April 14, 2024; Thurs. - Sat evenings at 8pm, Sun matinees at 2pm; Talk backs: Thursday 28th and Sunday 31st | Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St.

Director Ron Reed Set Design Hans Saefkow Costume Design Rosie Aiken Lighting Design Mark Carter Sound Design Rick ColhounTechnical Director Leighton Taylor Stage Manager Maddy Woodley

Cast: Carrie Watts Erla Faye Forsyth Ludie Watts Richard Meen Jessie Mae Watts Kapila Rego Thelma Cassie Unger Houston Ticket Agent 1 Braedon Grover Sunnes Houston Ticket Agent 2 David Underhill Harrison Station Agent Stephen Elcheshen Sheriff Oliver de la Harpe Travellers Courtney Klassen, Mercedes Lovemore, Courtney Vandiver, Melanie Vizuete

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Luminous is the only word for Erla Faye Forsyth’s portrayal of Carrie Watts. Carrie Watts is an elderly woman stuck with her under-achieving son and bullying daughter-in-law in a cramped Houston apartment. What she has longed for, for many years, is to return to her idyllic childhood home in Bountiful, a small farming community near the sea. The family though needs her pension cheque and have thwarted her attempts to take the train home. One day, she escapes.

Forsyth captures the slightly stiff joints of an aging person to a T in her walk and gestures, the way she manages her handbag, counts out money and trots about the apartment – to her daughter-in-law’s annoyance. There is a subtle difference in her movements when she is deliberately trying to be aggravating. More importantly Forsyth is an artist of stillness, compelling as she sits silent in the moonlight.

Carrie Watts is at once difficult, crabby, disappointed, garrulous, kind, charming, in love with nature, hard-working, determined, practical. She has experienced tragedy in the deaths of two of her children and a desperate love-affair as well as a golden childhood. Forsyth manages to convey all this and more with skill and subtlety.

The entire cast is outstanding. They have captured and made their own the rolling, rhythmic cadences of mid-20th century America, thereby tying the characters into a shared community. Richard Meen’s Ludie, pulled by both mother and wife in impossible directions, betrays defeat and self-protective hesitance in every move together with a natural gentleness. Kapila Rego has great fun as the self-centred Jessie Mae Watts, Ludie’s wife. Wilfully passionate, her life revolves around a Coke at the soda-fountain with her best friend and going to the movies. Quick tempered, her patience is never completely worn thin.

Cassie Unger plays Thelma, a passenger on the bus with Carrie. Thelma is a very young navy wife with an adored husband oversees. She is very kind, she helps Carrie and listens to her, and then leaves. It seems just an inconsequential chance meeting of strangers, but it is clear that Thelma’s life will be the reverse of Carrie’s. Unger’s ability to actively listen and respond makes the connection between the two women very moving. We and Carrie begin to understand her own life differently.

At the end of the bus trip, Carrie is only near, not in, Bountiful. Stranded, she learns that the friend she was planning to stay with is dead and also that Houston police have asked the local Sheriff to hold her until Ludie comes to take her home. Oliver de la Harpe is excellent as the man who has the power, like Ludie, to take her to Bountiful, or not.

In the smaller parts, Braedon Grover Sunnes, David Underhill and Stephen Elcheshen make punctilious ticket agents. Under Ron Reed's direction, the ensemble - listed in the program as Travellers - do amazing work. Besides being bus passengers, they also attentively accompany Carrie, perhaps as memories or thoughts, or sources of comfort, certainly her music as they sing the well-remembered hymns. This was a mysterious and satisfying concept.

Costume design (Rosie Aiken) showed the same detailed attention to character, from Jessie Mae's in-your-face wardrobe to the way Carrie's slip occasionally showed under the hem of her faded dress. Lighting by Mark Carter was emotionally evocative, remarkably so as much of this play takes place in the nighttime. The set by Hans Saefkow was practical and full of period detail.

This is a superb play, delicately written, beautifully acted and meticulously directed.

©2024 Elizabeth Paterson