David Dodd 1:48 a.m., May 18
Trip began as a TV play Horton Foote wrote for Lillian Gish. A white woman. Given her extraordinary performance at New Village Arts, you'd swear he wrote it for Sylvia M'Lafi Thompson, an African-American.
If a script calls for a force of nature, Thompson gets the nod. She played (and received a 2012 Craig Noel Award nomination for) the mother in Moxie's A Raisin in the Sun and once was Othello. But Thompson's so versatile, her art is so complete, she can play tenderness and fragility with equal skill. I will never forget her Lena, in Boesman and Lena at ECC, 30 years ago. What she's doing as Carrie Watts surpasses it.
"Maybe the need to belong to a house, and a family, and a town has gone from the world," Carrie observes in Act III, summing up Foote's nostalgia for roots and connection that runs throughout.
It's 1953. Although everyone's on the move - to work, to the hairdresser, to dump the last Photoplay magazine and read the next - they aren't moving forward.
Carrie lives with her son Ludie and his wife Jesse Mae in a thin-walled, three-room Houston apartment. The word "home" does not apply; nor does Jean-Paul Sartre's "hell is other people," though it comes closer. Jesse Mae is driving the passive Carrie nuts, and vice versa, and Ludie's attempts to mediate rival those of a secretary of state.
After many years in this percolating abode, Carrie decides to move - go back to where she had a true home in Bountiful, Texas, in her mind a combination of Bali Hai and Shangri-La near the Brazos River. That would be fine with Jesse Mae, if Carrie's pension checks stayed in Houston.
It's an amazing decision, given such a static world. And Carrie moves against the grain - and the odds - with an indomitable will.
The loose, longish-script shows signs of aging. Some scenes lapse into dullness and beg for a trim, and the dialogue has languid stretches (they did a 110 minute version in New York in 2005; the speed worked overall, but it rushed the actors). Like the script, New Village Arts' opening could have used an across-the-board tightening. In keeping with Foote's theme, everyone and everything should speed up - scene changes, over-long intermissions, the supporting cast. All should run at a "Houston" pace except the trio of lead actors. Give them more room to breathe.
If you include ensemble and production mentions, Yolanda Franklin had something like six nominations for Craig Noel Awards last year. She shows why as Jesse Mae. Somehow she makes the garrulous, self-centered woman both a thorn in her mother-in-law's side and likeable. Veteran Walter Murray's Ludie is a referee trying to officiate a lose-lose match without showing favoritism. Murray subtly reveals the strain that entails.
And Thompson. Her Carrie evolves from a starless night to a gleaming Texas dawn. Along the way her emotions kaleidoscope, moment to moment, always true and often breathtaking.