The Traveling Lady
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
Larry Bull, Lynn Cohen and George Morfogen in The Traveling Lady. Photographer: Carol Rosegg
Initially, the calm of a small Texas town in 1950 shows little hint of the turbulence simmering beneath the surface. Returning to the New York stage, The Traveling Lady is a snapshot of Harrison, Texas, the community that playwright Horton Foote knew so well, and again, he draws the drama from the everyday comedy and heartbreak of ordinary people.
On an early summer morning, there is a funeral going on in town and we've already met crusty Mrs. Mavis, a saucy old gal who is always on the run from her daughter, Sister Mavis. A stranger, Georgette Thomas just arrived in town with her five-year-old daughter, Margaret Rose, and finds themselves on the porch and yard of Clara Breedlove and her brother, Slim Murray (Larry Bull), a likeable and reliable cotton buyer.
Excited and desperate at the same time, Georgette is awaiting her husband, Henry, about to be released in a week from the penitentiary. They don't have a long history together, having been married only six months before Henry got into a drunken brawl and landed in jail, leaving his bride pregnant. Georgette has been telling her daughter stories about her daddy, a band singer who loved to sing "San Antonio Rose" and now they were going to meet him.
She turns to local Judge Robedaux (George Morfogen) to help her find living quarters and she is shocked to hear that Henry has been paroled and is in Harrison right now, working for Mrs. Tillman, the town's restless busybody. Georgette also learns that today's funeral is for Kate Dawson, the woman who raised Henry, freely using a whip "to break his spirit." Her stern upbringing might have contributed to his quick temper and heavy drinking.
Played by Jean Lichty, Georgette is a pretty young woman, hopeful and confused, with a determined smile and nervous fussing. She still hopes that Henry Thomas is no longer drinking and will return to her and his daughter, ready to begin a family life. She swallows back any apprehension about seeing Henry again but her insecurity seeps through.
The people she meets in Harrison are kind and helpful, but have their own nuances of emotions and needs hidden under everyday routines. Supporting cast is engaging. Angelina Fiordellisi's Clara is a supportive new friend to Georgette and we sense, to everyone else in need. As her brother, Bull shows Slim's own restless ache and broken dreams. Karen Ziemba plays Sitter with long-suffering good spirits but reveals a hint of yearning when she says, "I swear my whole life would have been different if I'd just learned to dance," instead of spending her life caring for mama. Lynn Cohen is a handful as her cranky old mama and Jill Tanner's short appearances shows the annoying attitude of know-everything maven Mrs. Tillman.
Playing the little girl, Korinne Tetlow is a clever child actor who is spot on in her role. As her daddy, Henry, PJ Sosko is less convincing. He does have a tender moment of connection when he sits with his daughter and softly sings "San Antonio Rose." That moment does not last long and when he next appears, he is drunk, babbling, apologetic and guilty. Georgette is broken-hearted, her plans shattered.
Throughout the play, we see Foote's artistry with his quiet cast of characters whose lives are not as simple as it seems. Yet, they are believable and resolute as they face life's changes, disappointments and hardships. They turn to hope and optimism and continue with life. A fairly hopeful ending is in sight as Slim opens his heart to love and Georgette tells herself and her daughter about her new fanciful dream, "Margaret Rose, we sure do get around."
Harry Feiner creates the lazy scenic and lighting designs for the Texas countryside and Theresa Squire's costumes with Paul Huntley's are just what these folks would have worn in the 1950's. Director Austin Pendleton paces the show with detailed authenticity and layered characters portrayed by a solid cast in another of Horton Foote's plays, a treasure chest of Americana and humanity.
The Traveling Lady
Theater: Cherry Lane Theater
38 Commerce St. NYC.
Preview: June 7, 2017; Opening: June 22, 2017; Closing July 16, 2017
Running time: One hour. 45 minutes. No intermission.
Written: Horton Foote
Directed: Austin Pendleton
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors, June 2017
Also appearing in TotalTheater.com