THE TRAVELING LADY
by Horton Foote
Director: Dr. Marion Castleberry
Assistant Director: Traci Ledford
Set Design: Clare Floyd Devries
Lighting Design: Jason S. Foster
Costume Design: Robin Armstrong
Props Design: Georgana Jinks
Sound Design: Amanda S. Lassetter
Stage Management: Heidi Shen
Margaret Rose: Vivian Blakely/Aubrey Rose Hansen
Clara Breedlove: Allyn Carrell
Mr.s Mavis: Dorothy Deavers
Sitter Mavis: Llisa Fairchild
Slim Murray: Luke Longrace
Sheriff: J. Rod Pannek
Judge Robedaux: James Hansen Prince
Georgette Thomas: Misty Venters
Henry Thomas: Scott Venters
Reviewed Performance 4/4/2011
Reviewed by Mark-Brian Sonna, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
First off, I must commend Water Tower Theatre for participating in the Horton Foote festival. Many of the area theatres are celebrating the renowned playwright by mounting a myriad of his plays. Water Tower has decided to tackle the "earliest" play of his cannon as Terry Martin, the artistic director, informed us.
Early plays sometimes are a bit problematic because the playwright is usually still developing his skills. But it is evident by the script that Horton Foote was already quite a master at his craft when he penned this lovely drama. It is signature Foote: small town, regular townsfolk, a character that somehow is misplaced in his or her surroundings, and the longing for happiness, love and a sense of place.
What makes this particular play tricky is that the script calls for quick mood shifts from comedy to sadness within the space of a line and it requires masterful actors and a director to take the audience along the emotional rollercoaster inherent in the everyday lives of these characters.
Georgette Thomas arrives at the porch and yard of Clara Breedlove's house in Harrison, TX. With her are a suitcase and her young daughter Margaret Rose. She has come to meet her husband Henry Thomas whom, as she believes, just got out of jail. The audience, of course, discovers that Henry has been out of jail for a month and has been staying with Mrs. Tillman. Mrs. Tillman has been working hard to straighten out Henry's life. Clara's brother takes a liking to Georgette and develops a crush on her. What follows is a wonderful weaving of seemingly simple moments, some comedic, into a drama of longing for love, the loss of love, and eventually, new love. If the script weren't so well written it would come across as a soap opera, for there are moments that nearly strain our credulity. But Foote presents these characters so honestly, that we don't question the timing and coincidences that develop.
The first act, which runs 40 minutes, presents us with lots of exposition. The second act intertwines the differing storylines, and, by Act 3, tightens the story to a knot so tight that what seems at first like a light hearted comedy is now a devastating drama. Or at least that's what the script calls for. Unfortunately, this production fails in this respect.
The problem with the presentation is that all the actors and the director just scratch the surface. Foote has created a play full of subtext. Each line is loaded with much more meaning then just the line. The actors may say one thing, though they feel another. But seldom does this undercurrent come to the surface.
I can't fault the talent of anyone on this stage. They are all very capable actors, and there are moments of genuine emotion, but it feels, overall, one dimensional. I'm not sure if the blame falls on the performers or on the director. But by the end of the production I felt like everyone involved in this show needed to re-read the script and ask themselves what Foote was actually saying behind the words on the page.
Director Dr. Castleberry mounted a version of this play back in 2006 and was nominated for a Drama Desk award. This indicates he had quite a bit of success. But after viewing this version of the play I was left with several questions: Could he have coaxed more in-depth performances from these actors? Did he instruct these actors to play these roles so superficially? Or, in his prior direction of The Traveling Lady, were the actors themselves able to develop a more meaningful sub-test? I have no way of knowing. I have not seen his other version of this play.
If there is a breakthrough performance in this show it is Scott Venters' portrayal of Henry Thomas. When he first appears, he seems like a sweet natured young man. It's almost impossible to think that this man actually could have killed someone. We know he has problems with drinking. When he reappears drunk, we see exactly the fury contained in him that is released by the alcohol.
Allyn Carrell has her moments as she tries to be the glue that binds the neighbors and her brother together. She's a very natural actor that makes every moment seem true. At one point, she delivers a monologue in which she is describing what happens to women like Georgette who partner up with troubled men. It is a nice piece of storytelling and delivered well. But I cannot help but wonder if she is aware that the monologue is actually a confession about an incident in her past and not so much an indictment of Georgette. To deliver it as a confessional, the monologue will become much more powerful.
Dorothy Deavers plays Mrs. Mavis, a woman suffering from
"forgetfulness." She has some of the best comedic lines and brings many laughs. But is she aware that frequently her lines actually serve as a poignant and metaphorical commentary about what has transpired or what, as an audience, we know will happen next? The musings are delivered for laughs and she nails each one of them, but there is so much more that could have been done.
Lisa Fairchild is an actress I think is phenomenal, so it surprises me to see her play Sitter Mavis as someone who is simply annoyed at keeping track of the constant wanderings of her mother. I wish she had delivered her character arc more effectively. It needs to feel as if her ever increasing frustration with her mother is wearing her down.
Luke Longacre's Slim is, at first, a blank slate to me. I have no sense of his character or who he is. The fact that he feels so deeply a need to leave Harrison is not established so when he announces it, it comes as a surprise to me. His chemistry with Georgette is palpable and he develops that arc quite well, but there is so much more I feel should have been communicated to the audience. The thing is, I am very impressed with is his acting skills, but it is in his portrayal the director either fails to guide him enough or completely misguides him.
Nancy Sherrard's Mrs. Tillman is not as developed a character as the others for she has more limited stage time. This said, I must applaud Ms. Sherrard for bringing us a very believable character. When she expresses her pride in being able to transform Henry, we know there's a subtle uncertainty. She tells us she knows he's been changed, but I sense that deep down inside she doesn't believe all that she was saying. She is saying it to prove how worthy she is as a Christian woman and as a call for attention, for she is in essence a very lonely woman. When he proves her wrong, her histrionics are forced, but it shows us that this is another way of calling attention to herself.
J. Rod Pannek and James Hanses Prince are nearly throw-away characters but these two men do their roles effectively.
Vivian Blakely plays Georgette's child, Margaret Rose, on the performance I saw. This child is very talented. Though she doesn't spend much time onstage, she is marvelous. The thing about children is that they frequently are either uninhibited in their acting and are able to display true emotion or they just recite lines. Her performance is quite genuine.
The play hinges on Georgette played by Misty Venters. She really looks the part. It is a lovely portrayal. There are times, however, I feel she rushes her moments. Her climactic scene is too quick. The world is collapsing on her yet she recovers from the moment too fast. Had she allowed the moment to fully develop and use silence it would have been much more powerful.
In fact, moments of silence are what this production lacks. There are some true bombshells that are dropped as the play develops. Yet everyone seems to race to the next line. If everyone takes more time to react, in silence, this play will take on a further dimension. As it stands now, the play is pleasant and enjoyable, but a far cry of what it can be.
Technically the play is wonderfully crafted. The lights fading as night comes is beautifully executed by Jason Foster's lighting design. The props by Georgana Jinks are marvelous as is the costuming by Robin Armstrong. The sounds of cicadas, crickets and the strains of music from a dancehall and train in the distance designed by Amanda S. Lasetter are nice touches because they sound so real.
The set by Clare Floyd Davies is gorgeously realized. It feels like a small town in Texas having a dry spring. Lots of soil and dirt are used in building this set to create the outdoor environment and it looks great. There is a bit of disconnect between the construction of the set and the direction of the piece. The play gets physical at times. The entire stage is built on a platform. Because of this, we can hear the ground thump quite frequently, taking us out of the reality built on stage. Either the director needs to communicate it to the designer, or the designer needs to make sure the drum effect to the audience is minimized.
If you want to go see a play that is pleasant, with some good laughs, that isn't very challenging to watch, then this is a perfect play. If you are someone who is wanting a more fulfilling evening of theatre, then you'll find this production a bit frustrating because it could have been so much more.
The Traveling Lady
Water Tower Theatre
Addison Conference and Theatre Center
15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX 75001
Runs through May 1st
Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm,
Sundays at 2:00 pm, and Saturday, May 1st at 2:00pm
Tickets are $22-$40. For tickets or info go to
www.watertowertheatre.org or call 972-450-6232.