Upon seeing The Trip to Bountiful, you'll understand people have raved about Cicely Tyson's performance as Carrie Watts. Not only does Tyson look and sound the part like perhaps no other could, she instills in her character the energy of a younger woman when it's called fro, and the pace of an elderly one when that's appropriate. You can clock the ups and downs of the play and of Watts' lead character's mood based on how Tyson moves around the stage. What's so remarkable about this is how much effort and time Tyson must spend in command, appearing in every single scene and stealing the show in most all of them.
Whatever director Michael Wilson did or didn't do, he made the right call in letting Tyson roam free. The play centers around Watts's hope of reaching her childhood home in Bountiful, Texas, so she sets out from Houston, where she lives with her son and daughter-in-law, and tries to recapture the glory of what she left behind two decades prior. This is a journey that goes beyond the physical -- Watts's character grows more vocal and revealing as the play progresses. She wishes to explore the things of her past as a comfort and a reminder of when she was young.
Cuba Gooding Jr. and Vanessa Williams star as her children and caregivers, with differing opinions about Watts's needs and intentions. At home in Houston, Watts can be difficult and stubborn and unpredictable. But when she rediscovers Bountiful, thanks to a long travel saga through the night, she has her spirit restored. During the second act, when Tyson belts out a song and dance routine alongside fellow traveler Thelma (Condola Rashad), this old woman shows off her chops and feels free again.
However, this play isn't only about life's joyous moments. It's subtly about loss, coping, and overcoming adversity. Many of the characters seem conflicted and torn up, with all of the stark revelations that come out remaining consistent with the characters we've witnessed. Equally remarkable are the sets that Jeff Cowie dreamed up, which give off the real impression of majestic places like Bountiful, crowded train stations, and even the inside of a bus. The places look small, but the people come across big. Tyson, of course, sets herself apart most, and best.
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