Taking a 'Trip' home
What is home?
For some, it is an actual place, but for others, a state of mind.
To celebrated American playwright Horton Foote, the question was profound. And one he answered memorably in "The Trip to Bountiful."
"I tend to be a homebody myself, so I'm interested about what 'home' means," says Keely Enright, director of the Village Playhouse's production, which opens Friday. "Is it a physical place or something you carry with you in your heart?"
To aging widow Carrie Watts (Samille Basler), who lives with her son (Jeff Jordan) and daughter-in-law (Liz Duren) in a three-room Houston flat, the home of her youth means connection, the kind she cannot enjoy in a nondescript urban apartment where she fears she is an encumbrance.
More, Watts chafes under the scrutiny of her daughter-in-law, imagining that she could regain her true sense of self if only she could return to the town of Bountiful.
Watts gets her wish, undertaking an odyssey through the American landscape and the topography of her heart.
"Watts is at a stage of her life where the things that defined her before no longer do in the same way," says Enright. "She is questioning where she fits in the larger scheme of the world. She is looking for a purpose. So it's a journey on many levels for her."
A plum role
Originally played on stage by Lillian Gish, and embodied by Geraldine Page in the Oscar-winning 1985 film, Basler finds it exceptionally easy to identify with the role.
"I see so many (members) of my family in Carrie Watts, especially my mother" says Basler. "Carrie is determined and resilient in her desire to return to her old home again in the hopes of recapturing some of what she feels she has lost (home, family, a town), but what she finds is that those are only illusions and that her strength and dignity have always been there waiting for her to find them again."
Watts is a familiar though meticulously limned character in a play that continues the Village Playhouse's season theme of "journeys of a lifetime."
" 'The Trip to Bountiful' is set in 1953," says Enright, who savors Foote's uncommonly quiet writing style. "Watts is in her 70s and very definitely of another era. It was a contemporary play when originally done, but from our perspective now, it is really fascinating. It's distinctly the story of a country woman. Not in a hick or hayseed kind of way, but rather someone deeply connected to the land and the world of farming.
"And there are not many plays these days with a 70-something lead."
Basler says that Watts is driven by the need to be where she once felt safe, seeking an anchor in a world of change, as well as by her need to escape from what she sees as little more than a prison.
"She is trying to find some sense and meaning in her life again," notes the actress. "By getting away and going back to her roots, she is able to find the strength she needs to go on to the end of her life.
"As I have grown older, I still want to go 'home' too, to feel that connection. And yet each time I have gone back to my hometown I have found that it is not the town or the people that has made me who I am but what I gained from being there."
The supporting cast includes Sierra Garland, Robbie Thomas, Fred Pittman and Dave Reinwald.
This will be the final season for the Village Playhouse in Mount Pleasant.
"After 11 years, we are out of the facility at Brookgreen Town Center the end of this season," says Enright. "And we have spent the last year looking for a new home. Now we are renovating the historical Neddin Brothers warehouse at 34 Woolfe St. downtown in order to have it in time to start our next season. It's an exciting but daunting project, and very bittersweet to leave the Town Center."