Last night I sat in the second row of the tiny Actor’s Theatre in San Francisco attending a performance of “The Trip to Bountiful” by Horton Foote. Jean Shelton, the person who has taught me more about acting than any other teacher , plays the lead role. I had been looking forward to seeing this show for weeks. Jean hadn’t been on the stage for over thirty years and yet she decided to take on this challenging role.
It turned out to be a challenging experience for me. The acting and direction were excellent in a way that you rarely see on stage today. There was very little pretense going on. The interactions for the most part were so organic and real. The only downside of this was that the show sometimes seemed to lack energy, although it was never boring. Even in the second act, during a very long scene between mother and son when both Jean and her real life son Christian Phillips spoke in hushed tones, seemingly with out a point other than to try to enjoy their last few moments in the soon to be gone forever, Bountiful, Texas, I found myself clinging to every word.
Now about the challenging part. Jean is getting a little up in years and like most actors I know of her age, they often have line trouble. Jean obviously was having that. It might not have been obvious to the casual theatre patron, but to those who have been up on the stage before, it was quite obvious. Normally as an audience member I would just watch with some empathy. But when this happened to Jean, I found my entire body going into a state of complete tension. I wanted to save her. I wanted to do something to prevent her any embarrassment. Being the pro she is, though, she always had a deep understanding of the scene and was able to work her way out of the line problems with more ease than most. It was my reaction that surprised me. It really made me see that when at some point in your life you care about a person, even if you don’t talk to them or see them anymore, there is always a part of you that wants to help, to console, to love, to reach out.
I take my hat off to Jean and to the entire cast. To see this woman who has completely dedicated her life to teaching others and helping others realize their artistic dreams, actually get the opportunity after so many years to go back to what started it all for her in the first place - being up on stage - was a sublime experience that I will never forget.
Actors Theatre of San Francisco:
"The Trip to Bountiful"
by Horton Foote
Through Sept. 9, 2006
Directed by Jennifer Welch and Rachel Klyce
The Trip To Bountiful tells the story of Carrie Watts, an elderly woman who flees the stifling confinement of the city apartment she shares with her son and daughter-in-law to revisit her hometown in the low farmland of the Texas coast. Amid ruin and decay wrought by the passage of time, she discovers a renewed connection to her past, and the satisfaction of a life well lived.
'The Trip To Bountiful ... is the rarest of theater experiences, an evening which will prove an indelible memory. .. Horton Foote has done, and done beautifully, the one thing it is important for a playwright to do. That is, provide the disciplined material for expert actors to completely capture an audience and hold it through the evening.' -NY World-Telegram
Featuring: James Baldock, Keith Burkland, Scott Agar Jaicks, John Krause, Tim Meehan, Virginia Dare Paulin, Christian Phillips, Duncan Phillips, Jean Shelton, Niki Yapo"