CARLSBAD — The Trip to Bountiful playing now at The New Village Arts Theatre stars Sylvia M’Lafi Thompson as Carrie Watts, a role that earned Geraldine Page an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1985.
The play, written by Horton Foote, is about an elderly woman in the twilight of her life that lives in a tiny apartment with her hen-pecked son and controlling daughter-in-law. Her only wish before she dies is to return to her hometown of Bountiful, Texas.
Attempts to escape, timed each month with the arrival of her social security check, are repeatedly thwarted by her son who is concerned for her health and daughter-in-law who says they can’t afford it. Finally, she is successful, making her way onto a bus where she strikes up an acquaintance with a young woman.
Eventually, a sheriff catches up with her just before arriving at her destination. Feeling sympathy, he allows her to finish the trip and experience the sense of completeness she has yearned for.
“This has long been one of my favorite plays and acting performances,” said Kristianne Kurner, who directs the production. “It’s such a wonderful piece about finding your way home and how you define yourself by memories and stories.
“(Local actress) Sandra Ellis-Troy and I wanted to do it starring her as the elderly woman,” Kurner recalled. “When she passed away, I put the script away because I wouldn’t be able to do it the same way without her.
“Then I saw Sylvia M’lasi Thompson in a production in Raisin in the Sun at The Moxy and thought M’lasi would be perfect to play Carrie Watts. Of every actor I’ve seen in San Diego, she has this almost amazing stage presence. You really can’t take your eyes off of her on stage — she has incredible strength and dignity and, at same time, is very fragile. ”
Thompson was nominated for the 2012 Craig Noel Awards, presented by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle for outstanding female leading performance in Raisin in the Sun.
“It (Carrie Watts) is one of the most important roles for an actress, especially a character actress,” Thompson explained. “I absolutely find Horton Foote’s writing from a woman’s perspective to be some of the most prolific and lyrical writing there is for a female character. When people ask me in years to come what some of my favorite roles were, Carrie Watts will be at the top of the list.”
Kurner also credits the performances of Walter Murray (Ludie Watts) and Yolanda Franklin (Jessie Mae Watts). Franklin was also nominated for a 2012 Craig Noel Award for outstanding female leading performance in “The Sugar Witch.”
Janell Cannon stepped out of her role as award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books, most notably bestseller Stellaluna, to design the sets for the production.
“I have done small, set painting jobs for years with New Village Arts Theatre, but this is the first time they asked me to do set design from scratch,” she said. “What I have learned is that theatre is not for wimps. It’s hard work for all involved, and it has been fascinating to watch the cast and crew work out all of the kinks in the show. It is exhilarating to watch a scene when it has finally reached a flashpoint where it turns into the sort of magic that can transport an audience.”
Preview performances are scheduled for 8 p.m., Feb. 7 and Feb. 8. Admission is “pay what you will.”
The production opens at 8 p.m., Feb. 9 and continues through 2 p.m., March 3. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. matinees, Saturdays; and 2 p.m. matinees, Sunday.
Regular admission is $29; and $27 for students, seniors and active duty military. Opening night admission on Feb. 9 is $36 and includes a small reception afterwards. There will be a post-show discussion with the cast on Feb. 10 at $29 regular admission.
A special promotion on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14 includes champagne, flowers and chocolate at a cost of $10/couple.
New Village Arts Theatre is at 2787 State St.
For information visit newvillagearts.org or call (760) 433-3245.