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Playing through Aug. 30, the modest play is a late-summer highlight.
You can try to go back to where you once had a home. But will it be worth the effort?
“The Trip to Bountiful,” the 1953 Horton Foote play that was much later made into a successful film, tells the story of one woman’s quest to recover that sense of belonging. It’s a modest play that, nonetheless, touches deep roots in the experience of many in the modern world.
Hackmatack Playhouse has mounted a fine production of this classic as its final offering of the summer season. As if to add even more currency to the show, outgoing Hackmatack Artistic Director Sharon Hilton has been cast in the lead. Hilton is just about perfect in the role.
The play concerns the efforts of the elderly Carrie Watts to escape an unhappy life in Houston, Texas. There, she shares a small apartment (and a retirement check) with her son, Ludie, and daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae. Carrie must sit by as the physically and emotionally weakened Ludie tries to restart a career after a long illness. Jessie Mae pursues her shallow interests of drinking soda, reading movie magazines and going to the beauty parlor with a strong will that frequently conflicts with her husband’s uncertainty about their future and Carrie’s nostalgia for the rural hometown of her youth. It’s tough to watch those early scenes with this dysfunctional family on full display.
While the others are out one day, Carrie makes a break for the town of Bountiful, which we learn hardly still exists after out-migration and the attrition of those left behind. Along the way, she encounters generally sympathetic and helpful people. All the while, Ludie and Jessie Mae are in pursuit and threatening to stop Carrie short of her goal.
Hilton does excellent work in conveying both Carrie’s frailty and her determination to win back some dignity for herself. Her reflective pauses and way of revealing her character’s reliance on her brand of old-time religion are just right.
As Ludie, Jay Rodger reveals the man’s doubts about himself and his limited and limiting economic position. He’s also good at showing the way he matches-up with a wife who never seems to be able to keep her nervous discontent to herself.
Linette Miles does well by the author’s apparent intent to make Jessie Mae’s shrewishness fall just short of ruling-out redemption. She’s not the ideal daughter-in-law, but a late scene seems to hint she may turn out not to be the worst either.
As the lonely traveler Thelma, Katie Rodger keeps her character’s emotions close to the surface while offering Carrie an opportunity to reflect on her past sorrows and joys.
Director Jeff Seabaugh has added a striking touch of expressionism near the close to underline the broader implications of Carrie’s journey. And, a vocal chorus of extras, led by Musical Director Adam MacDougall, frequently lift the drama by singing Carrie’s favorite hymns and spirituals between scenes.
Jerard-James Craven’s rolling sets, highlighted by period detail, go well with costumes by Fran Bechtold and lighting by Michael Turner to make this production a late-entry highlight of the summer theater season.
Performances through August 30
Hackmatack Playhouse, 538 School Street (Route 9), Berwick