Hop on the bus to … ‘Bountiful’
Touching show highlights small-town family dynamics
The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Horton Foote (“The Young Man From Atlanta,” 1995), frequently wrote about small southern towns similar to the one of his birth: Wharton, Texas.
Although “The Trip to Bountiful” was a critically acclaimed Broadway hit and a Tony Award-winning production in 1953, it was his Academy Award-winning screenplay adaptation of “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1962 for which he is perhaps best known.
Foote would go on to win a second Oscar for “Tender Mercies” in 1983, an Emmy Award for his adaptation of William Faulkner’s “Old Man” in 1997, and he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Clinton in 2000.
An Academy Award-winning film version of “Bountiful,” which starred Geraldine Page in the leading role of Carrie Watts, brought his touching play a new audience in 1985 — but it is Cicely Tyson’s performance in the 2013 Broadway revival that cemented “Bountiful” as Foote’s seminal work. This weekend “The Trip to Bountiful” opens at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei.
Kristi Scott, executive director of ProArts, shared why the intimate Kihei playhouse chose “Bountiful” for its 2017-18 season.
“We like to make sure we have a well-rounded season, as well as opportunities for actors to stretch a bit. ‘Bountiful’ is really an actor’s delight, all the characters are rich and fun to delve into. It’s not too heavy-handed in the drama department; it’s touching and there are not that many shows that feature an older woman. We have some wonderful, more mature actresses on the island,” Scott said.
In several interviews late in life, Foote shared the genesis of his play, which debuted as a teleplay on NBC in 1953 starring silent film star Lillian Gish as Watts and Eve Marie Saint as Thelma, a young newlywed Watts meets on a bus while traveling to Bountiful, Texas.
Foote based Watts on his great aunt, who, according to Foote, did not marry the man that she loved, instead marrying a wealthy older man. Upon her husband’s death, Foote’s aunt returned to the home of her youth and would sit on the porch each morning, and again in the evening, where she and her true love would exchange nods without ever speaking again.
The fictional town of Bountiful, according to Foote, is based on the home of his mother, a ghost town that had been abandoned during the Dust Bowl, but remained cherished by the family. Foote always kept a photo of the decaying house in his writing room.
In the ProArts production, Sharyn Stone takes on the celebrated role of Watts, and Kathryn Holtkamp plays Thelma. This moving play tells the story of Watts, an elderly woman, who longs to escape the cramped Houston apartment where she lives with her protective son, Ludie (Frank Hayes) and her authoritarian daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae (Gabby Anderman). Watts wants to return to her beloved hometown of Bountiful one final time before she dies.
Southern writers of Foote’s generation frequently harken back to the past, and the characters they present are usually based on their own ancestors. From Tennessee Williams to Truman Capote, Harper Lee and Margaret Mitchell, we are allowed to catch a glimpse of another time and another world, rich roles that actors love to sink their teeth into and solid characters rooted in family lore. Watts is in many ways just as important in Southern writing as Atticus Finch and Blanche Dubois — perhaps even a 60-something Blanche.
“Bountiful” director and longtime Maui stage performer Lina Aiko Krueger shared why she picked this script for her directorial debut.
“What I love about this play is that the characters are complex and rich with history — and their relationships are achingly authentic,” said Krueger. “Horton Foote touches on so many aspects of the human experience in one fell swoop, such as family, faith, loss, serendipity, compassion, truth, happiness and home — and does so with a script that flows like poetry.”
I asked Krueger to explain the differences between performing on stage and directing.
” ‘The Trip to Bountiful’ will mark my directorial debut, and I am enjoying it immensely. When asked to compare directing versus acting, I would say that it’s an apples and oranges situation. One has a peel, one has a core — both are delicious,” she said. “I am so fortunate to have such a talented, insightful and creative cast — and a wonderful production crew. I can’t wait to see it!”
Congratulations to the Maui Fringe Theater Festival 2018 award-winners. “The Sex Life of Achilles” by David LeBarron captured Best in Festival, and Qurrat Ann Kadwani placed second with her one-woman show “INTRUSION” in addition to winning the Hoku Award for best performance of the festival.
“Courted” by Alison Logan finished third and “Vindication: Scenes From the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft” by Lin McEwan was chosen by the public for the Audience Choice Award. The ninth Maui Fringe Theater Festival will take place Jan. 18 through 20, 2019 at the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku. Original one-act plays can be submitted in September.
Also this week
The King Kekaulike Dramaaticans conclude its production of “Makin’ It,” by Cynthia Mercatti. This comedy-drama is a story of daily high school interactions. There are jocks, nerds, popular girls, but none of them are stereotypes. There’s the good kid, baffled by high school, yet trying her best to make it through; the girl who wants desperately to look like the models in Seventeen magazine; and the football player who must protect his mother and sister from his abusive father. There’s the girl who lost weight, yet when she looks in the mirror she only sees her old self; the troublemaker who always lands in detention but has surprising warmth for the other misfits; and a principal who tries his best to navigate the ever shifting changes of young people.
* Performances of “Makin’ It” are at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 3 p.m. Sunday in the cafetorium at the King Kekaulike High School campus in Pukalani. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for students and are available at the door 30 minutes before the show.
Oahu’s Kumu Kahua Theatre presents “Wild Birds” by Eric Anderson. In this Hawaiian historical drama set in 1839 Honolulu, Amos and Juliette Cooke were deeply honored to be chosen to personally oversee the education of the children of the kings and queens of Hawaii. But how does one enforce rigorous discipline on a sacred ali’i child? When is education a form of imperialism? Inspired by historical events, “Wild Birds” tells the story of intense cultural clashes, the effects of western education on the indigenous monarchy, and the ultimate disillusionment of a teacher.
* Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 and 3 in McCoy Studio Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $28 (plus applicable fees). To purchase tickets for any MACC event, visit the box office, call 242-7469 or order online at www.mauiarts.org.
Maui OnStage will be holding auditions for John Steinbeck’s classic “Of Mice and Men” on Friday, Feb. 16, at the Historic Iao Theater. Audition appointments are required and are scheduled in 10 minute increments beginning at 5 p.m. Actors should bring a headshot and resume, and prepare a one- to two-minute monologue.
Performances of “Of Mice and Men,” directed by Alexis Dascoulias, will run weekends from April 27 through May 13. For character descriptions and more information, visit www.mauionstage.com. To schedule an appointment, call 244-8680.