Near the beginning of Act II of “The Trip to Bountiful,” Mrs. Carrie Watts (Barbara N. Howard) gets heartbreaking news that drew a collective gasp from Wednesday night’s audience. Such is the power of Horton Foote’s play and the fine production at Cap Rep.
The 1953 script is a study of one woman’s navigation through this vale of tears. And it quickly becomes apparent that everyone we meet is also trying to navigate, starting with her son, Ludie (Kevin Craig West) and daughter-in-law, Jessie (Sadrina Renee). Living in a cramped Houston apartment, they are on each other’s nerves, full time.
Mindful of her advancing age, Carrie unrealistically yearns to return to her ancestral home in Bountiful, Texas. Ludie broods about work, and Jessie Mae succumbs to bossiness and selfishness, perhaps because she has no child to warm her heart.
‘The Trip to Bountiful’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Through May 15
HOW MUCH: $55-$20, adults; $16, students
MORE INFO: 445-7469, capitalrep.org
But one summer day (and through a long night), Carrie escapes her stultifying life and buys a ticket to Bountiful — or, at least, as close as she can get, for things have changed, and the bus doesn’t go there anymore. Along the way she meets Thelma (Danyel Fulton), bus station attendants Miss Royona (Sheilah London-Miller) and Roy (Josh Powell), and a sheriff (Tony Pallone). Each of these brief encounters has a small arc, but just enough transpires for us to learn about the troubles everyone has seen, and to observe “the kindness of strangers.”
Honoring the place of music in African-American history, the production incorporates gospel music throughout. During the bus ride to Harrison and in the bus station — unfettered by Jessie-Mae’s complaints about her hymn-singing — Carrie opens up, and so does everyone around her. Lovely moments, shaped, in part, by music director Josh Smith.
Jared W. Rutherford’s barebones set (except for a stunning revelation in Act II) is subtly accented by Travis McHale’s lighting design. Janie Bullard’s soundscape and Barbara A. Bell’s costumes aptly evoke time and place.
So intimate is this piece that it’s the smallest gestures by these gifted actors I’ll remember: the shift in the Sheriff’s tone of voice when he realizes how good it feels to help; Roy’s rolling of his eyes when his mother mentions what a fine young man he is; Miss Royona’s touching delivery of the news to Carrie (and London-Miller’s sweet take as an interested passenger on the bus); Thelma’s blossoming into a dancer at just the instant she is at her lowest; the cracks in Jessie Mae’s self-absorbed monologues when we suddenly hear the sound of disappointment; Ludie’s uptightness in Act I and his opening up in Act II; and — in the midst of a three-dimensional performance by Howard — Carrie’s raised eyebrow here or knowing twinkle (yes, twinkles are possible) there.
These performances succeed because of director Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill’s talent for telling similar stories — like “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Our Town” — whose power also emerges from such simple interactions. She knows how to make us breathe with characters in their everyday times of trial and triumph.