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How far must you travel until you reach a place that is home?

Theater Review (NYC): ‘The Traveling Lady’ directed by Austin Pendleton

The Traveling Lady, Larry Bull, Lynn Cohen, George Morfogen, The Cherry Lane Theatre, Austin Pendleton,
(L to R): Larry Bull, Lynn Cohen, George Morfogen in ‘The Traveling Lady’ by Horton Foote at The Cherry Lane Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

The Traveling Lady by American treasure Horton Foote (Pultizer Prize and two-time Academy Award winner), is about the foibles of human nature, relationships, loss, and the hope of love and new beginnings as a natural order of living. The production directed by Austin Pendleton with his usual insight, attentiveness to acting specificity, and feel for “when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em,” is currently being presented by La Femme Theatre Productions at The Cherry Lane Theatre. It boasts a very fine cast.

The Traveling Lady is an ensemble piece that requires on-point performances for the portrayals to cohere and present logically. Foote accomplishes his work steadfastly, brilliantly: every line builds on the other in his characterizations. And though his work appears simplistic, it is layered and profound with minimal belaboring. If one carefully attends to the themes and character notes, one understands that the outcome for his small-town personalities is inevitable. The beauty of Foote’s work and this production is that it is far from predictable. This is why much of Foote’s work, if executed with precision, as Pendleton does with the assistance of the fine ensemble and artistic creative team, is greatly satisfying in its representation of homely Americana.

Foote’s plot arc for The Traveling Lady is developed with enough inherent tension so that one actually breathes a sigh of relief at the conclusion that one hopes for, as the characters move naturally toward their resolutions. As with many of his plays (i.e. Orphan’s Home Cycle), Foote lays out the rural dynamic of setting in the small Texas town of Harrison in 1950.

In Harrison as in any rural town, daily life is routine and slow. The action moves with major town events: births, weddings, funerals. And Foote uses an earth shattering event, the death of Miss Kate, Henry Thomas’ mother, to be the catalyst for the movement of life, death and renewal for Foote’s protagonists.

It is the funeral which brings Henry Thomas back to Harrison. It is Henry’s return to his hometown which brings his wife Georgette Thomas (Jean Lichty) and their daughter Margaret Rose (Korinne Tetlow) to Harrison to be with him. Henry and Georgette are thrust into the matrix of characters who make neighborly visits to share the gossip at Clara Breedlove’s home. It is in revealing Henry’s and Georgette’s impulses and humanity that Foote’s themes of sorrow, regret, hope, and forgiveness are relayed.

Karen Ziemba, Lynn Cohen, PJ Sosko, Angelina Fiordellisi, Jill Tanner, The Cherry Lane Theatre, The Traveling Lady, Horton Foote, Austin Pendleton
(L to R): Karen Ziemba, Lynn Cohen, PJ Sosko, Angelina Fiordellisi, Jill Tanner in ‘The Traveling Lady’ at The Cherry Lane Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

The neighborly matrix of townsfolk born and bred in Harrison include the elderly, “mentally slipping” Mrs. Mavis (a fabulous Lynn Cohen), Sitter Mavis (Karem Ziemba is her patient, loving daughter), Judge Robedaux (George Morfogen in too brief an appearance), Mrs. Tillman (the humorous Jill Tanner as the stalwart, religious, do-gooder), Henry Thomas (PJ Sosko is perfect as the heart-rending, regretful, and angry Henry) and Clara Breedlove (Angelina Fiordellisi is excellent as the kind, wise, earth-mother whose home {ironically not far from the cemetery} and heart provide a respite and place of sustenance.

Two characters, one who was not raised in Harrison, and the other who was and plans to leave it are Slim Murray and Georgette Thomas. Harrison is a way station for Georgette Thomas who comes seeking Henry after he is released from the penitentiary for stabbing and nearly killing a man.

Larry Bull finely shapes his Slim with subdued inner beauty and humility. He breathes charisma, attractiveness, and light in Slim’s soul as a quiet hero whose values and principles are decent and kind. I could feel every woman in the audience including myself ache for more such individuals like Slim (who is reminiscent of Steinbeck’s Slim in Of Mice and Men). Slim, who has been a deputy, prefers working in the cotton industry and plans to head South to pursue what he knows best.

Jean Lichty, Korinne Tetlow, The Traveling Lady, The Cherry Lane Theatre, Horton Foote, Austin Pendleton
Jean Lichty and Korinne Tetlow in ‘The Traveling Lady,’ directed by Austin Pendleton at The Cherry Lane Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

As Henry’s loving, long-suffering, sweet, loyal wife Georgette, Jean Lighty is well cast, as is Korinne Tetlow who is exceptionally poised and captivating as little daughter, Margaret Rose. Georgette and Margaret Rose are heartbreaking wanderers looking for rest and succor. Georgette hopes that her reunion with husband Henry will be successful and they will finally be able to live as a family. From the other characters, we discover that she has been loyal to Henry and would be most probably until “death do them part.” However, his actions are not worthy of her love and his inner weaknesses create the guilt within that keep him racing down the path of self-destruction. Despite this, Georgette may be willing to forgive him and continue if not for the welfare of Margaret Rose. These attributes of patience and loyalty form the core of who Georgette is. It is the time she lives in; she mirrors the folkways of the Texas communities whose women “stand by their men.”

Foote has laid his groundwork for us to immediately empathize with mother and daughter. We learn they are not accepted because people where they live learn about Henry’s background. Georgette’s father represents such attitudes. After Henry goes to the penitentiary, her father threws her out of the house and refuses to write to her about his granddaughter when Georgette sends him a picture.

Georgette has kept Henry’s situation from Margaret Rose. For her daughter’s sake, instead of confronting realities about Henry, in her mind she has built up tremendous hope for a family reunion. She believes that Henry can only improve. Though both are ready for a renewal, it is not to come in the shape and form Georgette imagines.

Lynn Cohen, Jean Lichty, Larry Bull, Karen Ziemba, The Traveling Lady, The Cherry Lane Theatre, Austin Pendleton, Horton Foote
(L to R): Lynn Cohen, Jean Lichty, Larry Bull, Karen Ziemba in ‘The Traveling Lady’ at The Cherry Lane Theatre (Carol Rosegg)

When mother and daughter arrive at Clara Breedlove’s home, eventually Henry, as all the townsfolk most likely do, finds his way there. Clara Breedlove’s home is a fitting symbol; it is not only a hub for the townsfolk and in this case the travelers, it is also a place for the truth to be revealed and accepted without judgment or recrimination. The “Breedlove” last name is appropriately clever.

In her loyalty and principled soul Georgette is the counterpart of Slim who lost his wife and was/still is devastated by the circumstances surrounding their relationship which he finally reveals to his sister Clara in a poignant scene. Foote has created sterling human beings in Slim and Georgette and indeed they are archetypes for what may be the best potential for contentment in relationships. We are gratified that somehow throughout all the pain and suffering Georgette and Slim have endured. Perhaps they will end up together to find some measure of happiness in the next chapter of their lives. With Foote, it is always a hopeful perhaps. Certainly, if Georgette remains with Henry, who is an alcoholic, disaster will follow for her and Margaret Rose.

The resolution of conflicts in Slim’s, Georgette’s, and Henry’s lives occurs at Clara Breedlove’s.  Foote has staged the beginning of life transformation there in Clara’s homely place, perhaps the most appropriate of places for there to be the possibility of life affirmations and new beginnings.

This production is a gem. You will appreciate the strong performances by the ensemble and incisive direction by Austin Pendleton. The cast, the director and the creative team Harry Feiner (Scenic & Lighting Design), Theresa Suire (Costume Design), Ryan Rumery (Sound Design & Original Music) whose striking production values enhance throughout, effect a very fine presentation of Horton Foote’s The Traveling Lady.

For performances and ticket information, go to  www.cherrylanetheatre.org; or call OvationTix at 866-811-4111; or stop by the box office at The Cherry Lane Theatre on 38 Commerce Street. The production has no intermission and runs until 16 July.

 

 

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About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, novelist and poet. She authors three blogs: The Fat and the Skinny, All Along the NYC Skyline, A Christian Apologists' Sonnets. She contributed articles for Technorati on various trending topics. She guest writes for other blogs. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely.

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