*Home … not a particularly long word, but its gravity is almost unparalleled. Heck, the only other words springing to mind that rival it – and are even shorter – are mom and God. But, no matter how small all three of those words are, they have a huge common thread that runs through them: love.
I was just visiting my birth home nestled in the Ohio River Valley, Louisville, KY, taking advantage of some of that aforementioned love, but couldn’t stay very long because I had tickets to check out “The Trip to Bountiful,” on Broadway. The play stars Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding Jr., three highly decorated actors with Oscars, Emmys, Tonys and Grammys between them, all on one stage at one time. I hated to cut my visit short, but I was eager to see what magic the three powerhouses could bring to the Stephen Soundheim Theater’s stage and the beloved Bountiful story (adapted from Horton Foote’s television play of the same name). So, after only a few days at home, I hopped a flight to the big apple not realizing how perfectly my brief visit home had set me up for getting the full impact of the play.
I left Louisville with a dream over 25 years ago, but my roots in the city still run deep. Along with a host of friends who know me almost as well as I know myself and neighborhoods and landmarks tattooed with special memories that I hold near and dear to my heart, my mother and brother are there, making the city my “Bountiful.” No matter how far I go or what obstacles I face in life, the wellspring of my coming of age experiences back “home” keep me nourished and full of perseverance and hope.
The Broadway revival’s central focus, the quaint but “rich” fictitious city of Bountiful, represented the heart and soul of who Tyson’s character, the headstrong Mother Watts, was. It was her beloved birth home. She spent the bulk of her latter years in Houston, TX with her henpecked, but ambitious son Ludie Watts, played by Gooding Jr., and high maintenance and opinionated daughter-in-law Jessie Mae Watts, played by Williams, longing to return to the city, wedged in between Harrison and Richardson, TX. Mother Watts, similar to my experience, had left there 20 years prior to the play’s setting, but left behind all the things that made her life rich – which she felt she had lost sight of. She longed to reclaim the fulfilling, as far as she remembered it, essence of the city that had nearly become mythical due to its dramatically diminished, well, bounty. Despite that reality, in her mind she desperately needed the experience to validate her continued existence – which she found to be plagued with trouble.
Being the headstrong woman that she was, every blink of her preoccupied-with-life’s-issues caregivers’ eyes was a chance for Mother Watts to make a break for it and take her journey back home. She failed on numerous occasions before finally finding the perfect opening, setting the stage for the depth of Tyson’s incredible gift of acting and Mother Watt’s depth of character to shine through. She found herself on an adventurous bus ride to back to Bountiful, relating the fascinating story of her life to anyone who’d listen, in particular, a young newlywed named Thelma, played by Adepero Oduye (replaces Condola Rashad).
The wide-eyed and lovestruck Thelma was headed to stay with her new husband’s family while she waited out his return from a sudden military tour of duty and found herself enamored with Mother Watts and her tales. During the journey, she sincerely shared with Thelma and others stories about love found and lost, about coming of age as a rambunctious teenage girl, and about profound friendships she’d established all while being raised by capable parents whom she dearly loved and respected. The soil of Bountiful was fertile ground that adequately supported its inhabitants in return for their appreciative toil and Mother Watts was eager to get back, reconnect with the only friend she remained in contact with and dig right in.
The richly entertaining Trip To Bountiful resonated with me profoundly, as I eluded to at the start of this piece, because I find myself a long way from home and have been for a while. My brief visit, however recharged me in a way that I hadn’t expected. I was aware that my engine was running out of steam, but I wasn’t aware that all I needed was a brief encounter with all the things that make home “home” to restore me. Mother Watts ultimately made it to Bountiful and stayed just long enough to be likewise restored … as was her formerly discouraged son Ludie and … well, I’ll just say her daughter-in-law was indirectly impacted by the “bounty” the former two were able to come away with.
All’s well that ends well.
The Trip to Bountiful runs through October 9.