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Theater review: 'The Trip to Bountiful' at the Lonny Chapman Theatre

February 10, 2011 |  5:00 pm

LizadeWeerd&GwenVanDamThe nonpareil voice of the late, great Horton Foote steers "The Trip to Bountiful." Although this determined Group Rep revival of Foote's 1953 look at one senior's quest to return to her girlhood home is still gelling, its devotion to text is undeniable.

First written for television for  Lillian Gish, who subsequently repeated on Broadway, "Bountiful" is today most familiar from its 1985 film version starring Oscar-winner Geraldine Page. Typical of Foote's canon, it transpires in Texas, where widowed Carrie Watts (Gwen Van Dam) plots to escape the Houston apartment she shares with Ludie (Kent Butler), her overprotective son, and Jessie Mae (Gina Yates), his self-centered wife.

As Carrie and her government pension check encounter various obstacles en route to the title town, Foote's gift for finding humanity in every character becomes self-evident. Director Larry Eisenberg pitches the tone between realism and elegy, placing Carrie in iconic tableaux during designer Mark Macauley's ambitious set changes.

Van Dam, unfussy and straightforward, embodies Carrie's frailty and spunk, although adherence to Eisenberg's brisk pace impedes the last degree of pathos. Over-attenuated tempos are the chief drawback, actors periodically hitting beats with more precision than nuance, likely to gain fluidity as the run continues.

Still, Butler's kindly Everyman quality serves Ludie well; Yates, acidic and funny, turns Jessie Mae into Kristen Wiig's Lone Star State cousin; and Liza de Weerd brings real sensitivity to Carrie's fellow traveler (the role created by Eva Marie Saint). Bert Emmett, Henry Holden, Stan Mazin and Patrick Skelton complete the roster. If not quite incisive, this thoughtful "Trip" is a respectable testament to Foote's bountiful talent.

-- David C. Nichols

"The Trip to Bountiful," Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends March 6. $22. (818) 700-4878 or Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: Liza de Weerd, left, and Gwen Van Dam. Credit: Sherry Netherland