In Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful, an elderly woman longs to pay a final visit to her tiny Texas hometown—a humble dream that's met with resistance from all sides. Her overprotective son and bossy daughter-in-law forbid her from traveling alone, and time has turned her beloved Bountiful into a ghost town even buses avoid. Still, our septuagenarian heroine soldiers on, determined to revisit the terrain that produced the ocean of memories that now constitutes her life. Along the way, she encounters kind strangers and harsh facts and learns the evergreen lesson that home is in the heart.
If this sounds like a Hallmark Movie of the Week, you're not far off: The Trip to Bountiful was first produced in 1953 as an NBC television play that soon made its way to the stage with Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint reprising their TV roles during a brief run on Broadway. In 1985, Bountiful made it to the big screen, with a Foote-adapted script and an Oscar-winning lead performance by the great Geraldine Page. Now, ACT Theatre brings Bountiful back to the stage, where Foote's TV-sized drama exists primarily as a showcase/victory lap for good-to-great actresses of a certain age.
At ACT, this actress is Marianne Owen, a beloved Seattle theater artist who seems a bit too young for the role but makes it her own. Perfectly good in the first half of the 90-minutes-with-no-intermission show, Owen comes on strong in the home stretch, as her character's increasing weariness allows for harrowing blasts of previously unspoken sorrow to burst through her sunny facade.
Beyond this central figure, Bountiful contains a small menagerie of supporting characters charged with helping/hindering our heroine on her journey. As written by Foote, many of these characters are happily two-dimensional—the young lady at the bus station might as well be named Ingenue, and the uptight daughter-in-law is as singularly wicked as one of Cinderella's stepsisters. That said, actress Mary Kae Irvin positively nails her portrayal of the cartoonishly evil daughter-in-law, and not all of Bountiful's inhabitants are so stocky. Wesley Rice brings rich charm to his pair of quick-turn supporting roles, and Paul Morgan Stetler shines throughout as our elderly traveler's beleaguered and beloved son. Stetler's endlessly lived-in characterization suggests another, better production, where all the actors wrestle Foote's sometimes slapdash characters down into reality. As it is, this is a sturdy production of a good—if rudimentary—drama.