An exceptional journey awaits you at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on West 43rd Street.
In my 30 years of covering theater, I have experienced memorable performances that left me stunned, moved and that stayed with me long after the curtain came down. I experienced that last Wednesday evening when I saw Cicely Tyson in “The Trip to Bountiful.” Tyson delivers a typhoon of emotions and a performance that leaves you breathless. She takes you on a journey you’ll never forget.
Tyson plays the character of Carrie Watts, who is living a sad, dismal existence, sharing a small apartment in Houston with her son, Ludie, and his self-centered wife, Jessie Mae. She dreams of going home to a small town she grew up in called Bountiful. Her son constantly lets her know she can’t go there. He tells her they can’t live in Bountiful because he can’t find work there. She is so set on returning to her childhood home that she takes her pension check, packs a bag and sneaks out of the house to start her journey.
The play, written by Horton Foote, is a deeply sensitive look at the painfully sad life of this elderly lady, yet it also lets the audience see that she still possesses a lot of wisdom and fire. You find yourself rooting for Ms. Watts. Tyson completely embodies the character and identifies with this woman’s dream and her determination to make returning to her family’s home in Bountiful a reality.
“The Trip to Bountiful” is so powerfully written that it does what an exceptional play should do: It completely takes you away from your reality and brings you to a time and place that is very real for the characters on stage. One can sympathize with this sweet lady who enjoys singing hymns. You can feel her panic to leave-even if it was only for a short while-the abusive living conditions she experienced through her daughter-in-law.
Tyson gives this character so many levels and the revelation of each emotion is a mesmerizing, riveting thing to see. I was moved to tears by the height of Tyson’s passion, determination and defiance in the face of obstacles.
Now, of course, Tyson was not on stage alone. Cuba Gooding Jr. makes his Broadway debut as Ludie and he gave an acceptable performance as a man who allows his wife to verbally abuse his mother. Vanessa Williams is amazingly cruel and quite on-point as the mean Jessie Mae.
As Ms. Watts is traveling to Bountiful, she meets a young woman named Thelma (played by Condola Rashad) in the bus station and they travel together. She shares her plight and her wisdom with this young woman and they develop a touching bond. Rashad gives a heart-warming performance that complements Tyson’s own.
This production also has veteran actor Arthur French as the man who works in the bus station where Ms. Watts stops during her journey. French, a total professional, brings his own strength to his role and manages to leave an impression on the audience. It is marvelous to see him on a Broadway stage again.
“The Trip to Bountiful” reminds the audience that our elderly can dream and have every right to have those dreams fulfilled. It also focuses on elder abuse, and it looks at the relationship between a husband and wife, drawing a line as to how much a person should allow a spouse to disrespect or threaten their parent.
The direction by Michael Wilson is flawless. This play works on so many levels. If you are trying to figure out which Broadway show to support, which one will leave you feeling moved and inspired, then look no further–“The Trip to Bountiful” is it.
By the way, the show is so brilliant, it is up for Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by a Lead Actress for Tyson and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a play for Rashad for the Tony Awards. These ladies are also nominated for Drama Desk Awards for their performances.
A special acknowledgement needs to be given to the producers, among them Stephen Byrd and Alia M. Jones, who also brought an all-Black lead cast of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and “A Streetcar Named Desire” to Broadway. These producers share a vision that Black actors can deliver exceptional performances with works traditionally performed by white actors, and after seeing this show, you will share their vision. Bravo and thank you for this incredible theatrical gift.
Something that I loved about the makeup of the audience for this show is I saw not only a lot of African-Americans, but also families who chose to bring their children, which was fantastic to witness. I am one of them. I had my 10-year-old daughter, Jasmine, and we cried together as Tyson delivered her stunning performance.
For ticket information, visit thetriptobountifulbroadway.com.