The per­sis­tence of me­mory

Pasatiempo - - For the New Mexican -

One of the most heart­felt and mov­ing per­for­mances by an ac­tress in Santa Fe this year is un­doubt­edly Lois Vis­coli’s portrayal of Car­rie Watts in The Trip to Boun­ti­ful, pre­sented by Iron­weed Pro­duc­tions at El Museo Cul­tural de Santa Fe. There are many ac­torly chal­lenges in the role, not the least of which is the stamina and dis­ci­pline re­quired. Vis­coli not only runs cir­cles around the other ac­tors (lit­er­ally), she brings depth, color, and drive to her portrayal of Car­rie Watts, a hymn-sing­ing Texan woman who just wants to go home to the farm she worked with her fam­ily.

Hor­ton Foote, the Os­car-and Pulitzer Prize-win­ning play­wright and screen­writer, wrote the script first as a TV drama that then had a short Broad­way run in 1962. The movie (with Foote’s screen­play) didn’t come out un­til 1985; Car­rie was played by Geral­dine Page, who won a Best Ac­tress Os­car for her per­for­mance. In rewrites of the story over the in­ter­ven­ing years, Foote de­cided that Car­rie’s jour­ney was more in­ter­est­ing than the events lead­ing up to it. He was right.

In the play (set in the early 1950s), the trip it­self — back to the for­mer fam­ily farm in Boun­ti­ful, Texas, where the “used-up” land has been re­claimed by the woods, the house is rot­ting to the point of col­lapse, and the town no longer ex­ists — doesn’t be­gin un­til the sec­ond act. Car­rie has spent “20 years walk­ing and griev­ing,” spend­ing the last two decades sleep­ing on the liv­in­groom sofa and climb­ing the walls of the one-bed­room Hous­ton apart­ment where her son lives with his un­der­stand­ably put-upon wife.

Claus­tro­pho­bia may cre­ate ten­sion be­tween Car­rie and her fam­ily mem­bers — the stir-crazy daugh­ter-in-law, Jessie Mae (played by Mona Malec), and Ludie Watts, the lov­ing but rather pas­sive son (played by Robert Nott) — but it doesn’t lead di­rectly to the tran­scen­dent emo­tional cli­max of­fered in the sec­ond act. The play re­ally be­gins when Car­rie sits on a wait­ing-room bench at the bus sta­tion and strikes up a con­ver­sa­tion with a young mil­i­tary wife head­ing in the same di­rec­tion (won­der­fully played by Vanessa Rios y Valles). It is their shar­ing of sto­ries and the sub­se­quent chain of events that al­most keep Car­rie from reach­ing her des­ti­na­tion that res­onate with ac­tion and emo­tion. The first act is just bick­er­ing.

One as­pect of the pro­duc­tion that de­serves spe­cial men­tion is the sound de­sign by Grady Hughes. Mu­sic, sub­tly em­ployed be­tween scenes, ranges from hummed spir­i­tu­als to in­stru­men­tal back­ground mu­sic — but all of it has such a well-cho­sen sweet­ness that it helps es­tab­lish a sense of place equal to Car­rie’s de­scrip­tions of gulf-scented air and the taste of wa­ter from the cis­tern, back on the farm in Boun­ti­ful.

When Car­rie fi­nally gets to Boun­ti­ful, walk­ing in a kind of trance, Vis­coli’s eyes de­scribe a life­time of re­gret tem­pered with the sweet­ness of me­mory. Re­al­ity isn’t im­por­tant, not on stage, and not in the main char­ac­ter’s mind. When she says, in a voice that could bring tears to the most jaded theater-goer, “I’ve had my trip,” one can ap­pre­ci­ate the ge­nius of a play­wright who saw no need for melo­drama and an ac­tress who seems to feel more than act.

— Michael Wade Simp­son “The Trip to Boun­ti­ful,” pre­sented by Iron­weed Pro­duc­tions, con­tin­ues Thurs­days through Sun­days at El Museo Cul­tural de Santa Fe (555 Camino de la Fa­milia, 992-0591) through May 9. For tick­ets, call 660-2379.

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