By D. A. Blackburn
As the old saying goes, you can’t go home again. Or, at least in the case of an elderly widow named Carrie Watts, you can – but your children will conspire to stop you. This is the basic premise at the core of Horton Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful,” which plays at Meadow Brook Theatre through April 12.
Carrie Watts has lived a long and eventful life, but ruled by an overbearing daughter-in-law and trapped in the confines of a tiny Houston apartment, she longs to return to happier times and her childhood home, Bountiful, Texas. In the two-act play that unfolds, Watts makes her escape, meeting new friends along the way, but ultimately learning that the familiar old saying holds true.
Meadow Brook has taken great care to craft an attractive, thoughtful and well-rounded production. Its design elements, particularly in the areas of sets and soundscape, are superb. And they’ve given the work a cast with talent befitting the adjective bountiful.
Mary Benson has the role of Carrie Watts well in hand, and Jim Porterfield is in fine form as her son Ludie, bringing an accent reminiscent of Tommy Lee Jones and an undertone of quiet strength to the character.
But it’s Barbara Coven as daughter-in-law Jesse Mae who really stands out, finding an unusual charm in a very convoluted, easily-disliked character.
On the periphery, the ensemble is equally strong, even shifting scenes with grace and musical flair.
But even in talented hands, “Bountiful” has an undeniable flaw: The plot is as flat as the plains of Texas. While charming, it lacks the dramatic arch necessary to truly engage an audience, and ambles along at a dreary pace.
Meadow Brook should be proud of its accomplishment in crafting such a sound production, which satisfies on nearly every level – all except the most important one: as a riveting, heartwarming drama.
‘The Trip to Bountiful’
Meadow Brook Theatre, 2200 N. Squirrel Rd., Rochester. Wednesday-Sunday through April 12. $30-$39. 248-377-3300. http://www.mbtheatre.com