Millicent Hurley Spencer and Mike Boone in Raven Theatre’s “The Trip to Bountiful”
One of the things I’ll never understand about society is how we treat those who are in advanced phases of life. The senior citizens. The elderly. The infirm.
Especially considering, if we’re lucky enough, we’ll all be in that same boat.
Instead, we shuttle our elders into sterile nursing homes and remove any stimulus that might pose a fall risk or heart attack. Or, worse yet (and perhaps more common), we ignore them — as if doing so helps mitigate the fear of the inevitable. After all, we all can’t possibly look like Jane Fonda at the 2013 Emmys when we turn 75.
Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful is a beautiful and plain-spoken play that makes us think long and hard about the choices we make when it comes time for us to transition into caretaker. It’s also a sobering reminder of perhaps the biggest fear one can have when facing the silver years: becoming a bothersome obligation.
We’re introduced to Mrs. Carrie Watts, an elderly woman looking to escape the stifling confines of her son’s Houston apartment to visit her rural Texas hometown one final time. As Mrs. Watts in Raven’s dutiful — and, at times, deeply moving — production, we have Millicent Hurley Spencer, an actress with an expressive face and eyes that sparkle with the mischief of exploration and the hunger for something more. While Spencer gives a smart and fiercely committed performance, she comes across as a sturdy woman who wouldn’t have any problem firing up a tractor and plowing the farm. In fact, I was half-expecting Spencer to clock her resentful daughter-in-law (a delightfully bratty Eleanor Katz giving a performance not unlike Blanche Devereaux on a very bad day) rather than biting her tongue and rocking in her chair.
However, while it might be difficult to initially accept Spencer as a women not capable of forging her own fate, due to the actress’s commitment to character, I grew to overlook Spencer’s solid stature and realize that this is a woman who’s broken — and the only way to mend her fractured spirit is this trip to Bountiful. Along the way, Mrs. Watts meets a series of kind souls, including a polite young wife (tenderly played by Jen Short) traveling to live with her parents after her husband has been shipped off to war, and a compassionate Sheriff (Larry Carani).
For those unfamiliar with this play (and Raven Theatre’s production, directed by Joann Montemurro, is a very fine introduction) I won’t give anything away, except to say that this is one of those tales that’s more about the journey than the destination. And what a beautifully bountiful trip it is, indeed.
“The Trip to Bountiful” plays through November 17 at Raven Theatre. More info here >
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It should also be mentioned that the fine set was designed by Ray Toler and beautifully evokes the stark simplicity and emotional depth of Horton Foote’s writing.