'The Trip to Bountiful'

Oregon Stage Works seems to have carved a niche this season doing classic plays and doing them exceedingly well. We have had "To Kill a Mockingbird," then "Witness for the Prosecution" and now we have Horton Foote's lovely "The Trip to Bountiful."

It would be easy to dismiss "The Trip to Bountiful" as sweetly sentimental. But there is a very real edge here and OSW's production, directed by Doug Ham, is straightforward enough to let us see both the illusion and disillusion of memories of some place we can call home.

Mrs. Carrie Watts (Rochelle Savitt) is a caged wild bird, much like those glorious redbirds and scissor tails she remembers from her youth. It is the summer of 1941. Carrie lives in a cramped three-room apartment in Houston with her dutiful son Ludie (Peter Alzado) and domineering daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Kate Sullivan). She dreams of nothing more than making her escape and traveling back to Bountiful, Texas, the rural farming community where she grew up.

We initially see only the present &

the cramped apartment, the clashing personalities, the unfairness of Carrie's life. But gradually, as the play unfolds, we realize &

to our horror &

that this has been her existence for fifteen years, since Ludie married Jessie Mae.

It is not clear whether Carrie has been living with the couple all those years, but the struggle between Carrie and Jessie Mae has been going on since Ludie first brought the woman home. Now, Carrie lives with them, sleeps on a cot in the living room, does all the cooking and cleaning while Jessie Mae reads movie magazines, drinks drug store cokes and visits the beauty parlor. It is Carrie's pension check that stretches Ludie's paycheck enough to make ends meet. Jessie Mae's panic at Carrie's attempts to run away seem to be less rooted in concern for Carrie's health than they are with keeping up Jessie Mae's lifestyle.

At first, Carrie's return to Bountiful seems to be simply about returning home, about returning to a place that means security, comfort and stability. But as the play unfolds and Carrie gets to make her journey, we see &

and Carrie ultimately tells us &

that Bountiful is about dignity and making peace with one's life and oneself.

It is a lovely, nuanced journey. Carrie's traveling companion is the young Thelma (Jennifer Miller-Brian), returning to stay with her parents now that her new husband has been sent overseas. Thelma's life is filled with promise, a loving husband, a loving family. It becomes the counterpoint to Carrie's recounted memories &

a domineering father, a loveless marriage, the death of two children.

Director Ham never lets this tale slide into set pieces or easy answers. With Ham's direction, none of these characters &

not even the awful Jessie Mae &

are caricatures.

The casting is perfect, especially the radiant Savitt as Carrie Watts. Sullivan's Jessie Mae is finely drawn &

self-absorbed and selfish now to be sure, but we learn that she also nursed Ludie through a devastating two-year illness that took away their comfortable existence and life's savings. Alzado doesn't play Ludie as a pushover &

he is a strong and decent man caught between two demanding women. Miller-Brian's Thelma is sweet but never saccharine.

Doug Ham also did the excellent scenic design with lighting by Phil Shaw. The wonderful period costumes are by Susan Cowper. Tim Kelly has provided the delightful period music and hymns so central to the plot.

Of course, Carrie does get back to Bountiful, with the aid of some helpful ticket agents (Eric Kresh, Rowdy Yates and Tyler Rice Malovoz) and a sympathetic sheriff (Doug Ham). But it isn't quite the journey's end that either she &

or us &


"The Trip to Bountiful" plays at Oregon Stage Works through Aug. 11. For more information, call 482-2334.

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