Good Theater returns to a large-cast production with “The Trip to Bountiful,” the Horton Foote family classic about a matriarch – played on Broadway in 1953 by Lillian Gish and by Cicily Tyson in the 2013 Broadway revival – who dreams of returning to her hometown of Bountiful, Texas. She follows her dream and hops on a bus for the journey home. The play is about the people she meets along the way.
It opens Wednesday and runs through April 30 at the St. Lawrence Arts Center in Portland.
“Now is the time for ‘The Trip to Bountiful,’ ” said director Brian Allen, noting its sentimental ending. After a winter of comedies, Allen wanted “something that had more dramatic weight to it” for the spring. “What a lovely time to have a play that is nice and touches your heart and reminds you of the goodness in humanity.”
It features a cast of 11, including Broadway actress Louisa Flaningam in the lead role of Carrie Watts. She has a near-50-year career in professional theater and has performed on Broadway, off-Broadway, on national tours and in regional theaters. Good Theater artistic director Brian Allen first saw her in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in the 1980s and has been a fan ever since. Flaningam has auditioned for Good Theater a few times.
“When I put this show on the schedule, I called her up and gave her the part,” Allen said. “I thought she’d be perfect for this part. She was born in the South and understands this woman. She brings the right energy. She’s spunky.”
Flaningam’s Broadway credits include the 1992 revival of “Guys and Dolls,” “Play Me a Country Song” from 1982 and “The Most Happy Fella” and “The Magic Show” from the 1970s. Among her national tours were “Little Women” and “Company.”
The play has an interesting history on stage and on film. It premiered as a TV musical early in 1953, airing on NBC, and moved that fall to Broadway, where it lasted only 39 performances. A movie version, released in 1985, starred Geraldine Page, who won on Oscar for her performance in the film. Most people know the movie version, though the story has been revived twice in 12 years – off-Broadway in 2005 and at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway in 2013. Allen saw the show in 2013. In addition to Tyson, it starred Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr.
Along with Flaningam, the core cast consists of Christopher Holt, Amy Roche and Hannah Daly. Others include Glenn Anderson, Michael Kimball, Craig Capone, Griff Kimball, Val Bramble, Clair Mcdougald and David Vincent.
It’s been a fun project, Allen said. “Our leading lady has regaled us with stories of working with the Smothers Brothers, Bob Fosse, Harvey Fierstein and many others,” he said. “She’s a doll, and the cast loves her. We laugh a lot and get choked up often.”
The story is a classic family struggle with a happy ending. Carrie Watts moves in with her son and daughter-in-law in a cramped city apartment. The mother and daughter-in-law have frosty relations, and the son is caught in the middle of the struggle. The worse the situation becomes, the more she dreams of Bountiful.
“I can identify with her, and I think a lot of people can,” Allen said. “I can’t wait to get back home. A lot of people have that desire. There is something about going home, and as people get older, it becomes more important.”
WHEN: Opens Wednesday, March 29, and runs through April 30; 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
WHERE: St. Lawrence Arts Center, 76 Congress St., Portland
TICKETS & INFO: $22 to $30; 885-5883, goodtheater.com