Jean Adams, Jack Razumich and Kelli Conkin in a scene from "The Trip to Bountiful"

Jean Adams, Jack Razumich and Kelli Conkin in a scene from “The Trip to Bountiful”

The Trip to Bountiful by Horton Foote is the first of three American classics that Mrs. K and I are seeing this weekend. The play is being presented in the uniquely beautiful Scottish Rite Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis, which was a huge treat to visit in itself. We attended the show’s preview night. Directed by Matthew Socey, the play is the story of elderly Carrie Watts, who feels very confined, living in a three room Houston, Texas apartment in the 1940s with her put-upon son, Ludie and her flighty, unhappy daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae. She longs to return to the family homestead in Bountiful, near the gulf, before she dies. She has tried to escape to there before, but has aways been unsuccessful, which has increased the tension in the cramped household.

Local stage veteran Jean Adams takes the role of Carrie and does a masterful job with it. Her adroit character portrayal is the glue that holds this production together as she projects understated emotion, peppered with Mother Watts’ sweet memories and joys. Jack Razumich is visually pained as the wishy-washy Ludie Watts. Through body language and a stuttering delivery, he creates a character at once wanting to do right by his aging mother and yet struggling to do what his self-possessed, equally troubled wife needs of him. No doubt, this is a man caught in the middle. Kelli Conkin’s Jessie Mae is self-centered and at times, immature – just right for Foote’s most disturbing character. Her portrayal makes you feel both sorry for her in her denseness and a bit outraged by her shoddy treatment of her mother-in-law. Note: Both Ms. Adams and Ms. Conkin are recreating roles they recently played at Mud Creek Players.

Kelly Gualdoni appears as Thelma, a young woman Mother Watts encounters on her escape from Houston. The bus scene between Ms. Gualdoni’s Thelma and Ms. Adams’ Carrie is one of the best in the play, with wonderful turns by each actress as they form a caring alliance. Jonathan A. Holden II handles the part of the helpful sheriff, and other smaller roles of various bus line workers are nicely done by Holden, Cliff Dennis and Bill Perkins.

Altogether, Socey has used his very well-cast troupe to weave an emotional and insightful story. Though I thought the energy in the first scenes was a bit low, I understand the understated approach the director was aiming for here, plus, I know that with a fuller audience and the energy they will provide, such levels will naturally be higher. For me, the play took off in the bus scene I have previously alluded to. From that point on, Carrie Watts’ stories of her sweet, romanticized past and of her sad, family woes, join hands and carry us through to the conclusion. We are meant to feel bad for Mother Watts and we do – but we also wind up seeing hopeful possiblities for this flawed family.

Let me write a bit about the wonderful theatre space this show is presented in. If you have never been to Scottish Rite Cathedral, I am certain you have seen it from the street and wondered about this downtown castle. Part of the pleasure of seeing this show is that it is done in this remarkable building. When you come to see this play – give yourself a little extra time to arrive early so that your eyes can feast on the unbelievable interior in the theatre area. Carved wood, ornate fixtures and a serene atmosphere await you. Come see this very meaningful show, come gaze on this space as a bonus.

The Trip to Bountiful opens tonight (3/1/13) and continues March 2, 8 and 9 with a 7:30 curtain. One matinee will be offered March 9 at 3pm. Parking is free at the building lot with an entrance off New York St. No reservations are necessary.