PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Trip to Bountiful—Carrie Me Back

By Harry Haun
24 Apr 2013

Cicely Tyson; guests Andre de Shields, Lois Smith and Michael Urie
Cicely Tyson; guests Andre de Shields, Lois Smith and Michael Urie
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Meet the first-nighters at the Broadway opening of The Trip to Bountiful. Cicely Tyson, Tom Wopat, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. were there – so was Playbill.

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The first warm and welcoming words you heard April 23 when The Trip to Bountiful started up at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre were those of its late author. Who else but Horton Foote, in his soft Southern drawl, could tell you what to do should you "care to partake" of candy? For some, the tears began then. For the slow-to-well-up, there were scattered showers throughout as they gradually realized the great Cicely Tyson is still great—that the passage of time had taken none of her formidable skill.

How great a passage of time? Three full decades have elapsed since she last appeared on Broadway. The corn was green then; now it's dusty husk. And, although La Tyson demurely claims to be eight months shy of an octogenarian, The Paper of Record insists—and insists again via Ben Brantley—that she's 88, but she hasn't denied it.

Which, basically, makes her portrayal of Mrs. Carrie Watts miracle work. It's as though she had an emotional Geiger counter built-in, which unfailingly led her to the correct acting choices during this sentimental journey home—back to Bountiful and the ramshackle homestead where she left her strength and dignity to take up a cramped existence in the Houston apartment of her son and his shrewish wife.



Tyson starts out little-old-lady small, bullied and battered by her demanding daughter-in-law and then switches into determined steamroller overdrive and high-tails it for home. Inevitably, she discovers what we all discover when we look back at where we came from—that we can't go home again—but, with Carrie Watts, the journey is the gesture, and it brings her the inner peace she needs to continue co-existing with her immediate family in relative (pun definitely intended) harmony.

The play's after-party was several planets away from rural Texas at Copacabana on West 47th St., and the drink de jour was iced tea (vodka-laced for non-teetotalers).

It took a long while for Tyson to stash the granny wig and dreary frock and make her Star Entrance. Most of the paparazzi pooped out and assumed squatting or sitting positions. At last, The Great Lady appeared, in a flowing black wig with bangs and a smartly tailored pants suit, looking a little lost in all the flashbulb commotion going on around her, but gamely if almost shyly addressing the stream of TV lights.

"Yes," she said emphatically, "it was worth the wait," referring not to her tardiness but to the 28 years she put in wanting to do this part after seeing Geraldine Page's Oscar-winning Carrie Watts. The highest hope was that something like it would come her way, enticing Tyson back to the stage, but she never, ever expected to see the actual role fall in her lap. But life, which was "strangely merciful" to Norma Desmond, was just as generous to Cicely Tyson and granted her her heart's desire.

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