The Daily Southerner
ROCKY MOUNT —
The Tar River Players’ upcoming production, “The Trip to Bountiful,” is reminiscent of a 1950’s sitcom, but the Players’ dramatic performance might evoke more tears than chuckles from the audience.
“Both poignant and humorous” is the way that Roberta Cashwell, who co-directs and plays the lead role of Mrs. Watts, describes the play.
“Mrs. Watts has a heart condition,” she says. “The one thing she really wants to do before she dies is see the home place in Bountiful.” Bountiful is a fictional town in Texas, playwright Horton Foote’s home state.
“I think in her (Mrs. Watts’) mind, Bountiful is her idea of heaven,” said the play’s co-director, Coley Sykes, a theatre student at Edgecombe Community College. “I think it’s her way of coming to terms with the fact that she’s dying.”
Mrs. Watts lives in a three-room apartment in Houston with her son, Ludie, and daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae. Mrs. Watts was forced to move to the city because of financial problems, and the family relies on the elderly woman’s pension check.
“It’s a really good alternative lens into the stereotypical (parent/ child, husband and wife) relationship that you see on sitcoms, beyond just a funny parody of it,” said Stephen Dupree, who plays Ludie. Dupree described his character and his wife, Jessie Mae, as “polar opposites.”
“Where she (Jessie Mae) is very snappy and edgy, when he gets mad, he walks out of the room instead of yelling. He’s quieter, more focused on his accounting job,” said Dupree. Jessie Mae and Mrs. Watts’ constant disagreements further strain the husband/wife relationship.
“While Mother Watts is really focused on the past, Jessie Mae wants to move forward. She doesn’t see the point in looking back,” said Samantha, who plays Jessie Mae. “She’s very self-centered.”
A headstrong woman determined to return to the town where she grew up and raised her children and a self-centered woman with her own way of running her household do not mix, and arguments between the two are constant.
Porter Humbert, a theater student at East Carolina University, plays the role of the ticket agent at the bus stop and the driver, describes Mrs. Watts as “determined” and “stubborn.”
“She’s dead set on going to Bountiful. She runs into some problems on the way, but that doesn’t stop her for a second. She’s tried enough that she’s figuring out new ways of getting there,” said Humbert. “We all know that one really stubborn kind of person.”
Sadly, Bountiful is not the town that Mrs. Watts remembers from her childhood. The town has died, and the home place is run down.
“It’s a story that a lot of us can relate to,” Cashwell says. “Watson Brown’s photography will be featured in the play and people will recognize them.”
Brown’s photography depicts scenes in the eastern North Carolina region, and Cashwell imagines that the scenes are not a major departure from the fictional east Texas town of Bountiful. Foote’s “The Trip to Bountiful” was made into a 1985 film starring Geraldine Page.
Rounding out the small cast of characters are Dawn Whitehurst, who plays Mrs. Watts’ niece Thelma; David Cashwell, who plays the sheriff of Harrison, Texas; Carnell Lamm, who plays a passenger on the bus; Elmina Cashwell, who plays another traveler, and Michael Tillery, who plays a ticket agent at the bus station.
Audiences will have their pick of performance times – 8 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23, and March 1 and 2, and 2 p.m. Feb. 24 and March 3. All performances will take place in the McIntyre Auditorium on Edgecombe Community College’s Tarboro campus. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and children, seniors age 65 and older, and groups of 10 or more. Tickets are available at the door.