I watched a preview performance of The Trip to Bountiful at Olympia Little Theatre. This is a finely polished production. Written by Horton Foote and directed by James T. Patrick, Bountiful is a quiet, intimate, little play. There’s nothing bombastic or showy about the story or the acting. Rather, it’s a look into what Henry David Thoreau called lives of quiet desperation, in this instance a small family in Texas in 1951.
Ludie Watts (Jeff Hirschberg) is someone most would consider an underpaid man in an inconsequential job. His wife, Jessie Mae (Deya Ozburn), is an archetypal early-1950s housewife. She has little to do all day but hang out in the beauty parlor and drink Cokes, or to complain about and to her mother-in-law, Carrie Watts (Anita Pirkle), who lives with them. Carrie is elderly and not in good health. Ludie and, especially, Jessie Mae think she’s going senile and probably doesn’t have long to live. They’ve even convinced Carrie, to at least to some degree, that she’s incapable of taking care of herself. Carrie has been thoroughly cowed by Jessie Mae.
The one thing Carrie wants more than anything else is to go back home to the little town of Bountiful and the old farm where she grew up. To this end, she’s repeatedly run away from Ludie and Jessie Mae’s home, always to be stopped and brought back. Cassie will not give up. She’s determined to get back to Bountiful before she dies.
Performances by the three principal actors are natural and outstandingly underplayed. Pirkle, who’s younger than the character she plays, is convincingly elderly and frail. She portrays the mother as a woman who’s afraid and shy but with unexpected inner strength and courage. Hirschberg plays the husband as a slightly younger version of his mother—equally quiet and anxious to please both his wife and his mother, an impossible task. He’s a character who, like his mother, has hidden sources of strength.
Ozburn has long been in the top tier of South Sound actors, and once again she demonstrates why. Her characterization of Jessie Mae as a complex character—fun to watch as a woman you want to strangle—is a tour de force of tightly controlled acting. Her every gesture, from disdainful eye rolls to the sassy way she places her hands on her hips, adds to a complete portrait of a woman who is at the same time both the epitome of a type and a unique individual.
The set design by Christopher Valcho is outstanding, from the beautiful but not pricey furniture in the Watts’s Houston apartment to the porch of the rundown farmhouse in Bountiful.
The Trip to Bountiful is not an easy play to get excited about, because the dramatic clashes are not monumental and the comic moments are almost nonexistent; yet in its unassuming way this is true storytelling with a clear beginning, middle and end in three acts. It’s a convincing look into credible lives that matter.
What: The Trip to Bountiful
Where: Olympia Little Theatre,
1925 Miller Ave., Olympia
When: 7:25 p.m. Thursday – Saturday,
1:55 p.m. Sundays through April 9
How much: $11-$15
Learn more: 360-786-9484 | OLT