The Traveling Lady
nytheatre.com review by Lisa Maragaret Holub
March 5, 2006
Ensemble Studio Theatre’s revival of Horton Foote’s The Traveling Lady, a tribute in honor of the esteemed playwright’s 90th birthday, tells the tale of Georgette Thomas (Margot White), a young mother adrift and alone—desperately hoping to find the husband and home she so longs for but intuitively feels is forever out of her reach. Unfortunately, the situation is just as she fears; the young man she married in a youthful fever is neither capable, nor interested in living up to the responsibilities of a family. Traveling with her young daughter, Margaret Rose (Quincy Confoy), to the fictitious Harrison, Texas, the childhood home of her husband Henry (Jamie Bennett), she finds that not only has he been released early from the penitentiary, but he has been living there for the past month with no apparent intention of contacting or even acknowledging his young family.
Desperate and embarrassed by her lack of resources, Georgette is befriended by the townsfolk, most notably Clara Breedlove (Rochelle Oliver) and her taciturn brother, Slim Murray (Stan Denman), who, although haunted by a painful secret, cannot help responding to the young mother’s plight. Foote peppers the play with various neighbors and characters including the town’s gossip Sitter Mavis (Carol Goodheart) and her runaway mother (Lynn Cohen), whose one delight is to vex and worry her dutiful daughter. Into the mix comes Mrs. Tillman (Alice McLane) who has never met a soul she couldn’t save, and whose current crusade is prying the errant Henry from the evil, vile clutches of whiskey. When Henry’s past and present worlds collide, he panics and falls back in with his old habits, betraying and damaging everyone around him.
While well-staged by Marion Castleberry, with a nice set—simple and evocative of a small-town, designed by Maruti Evans—and containing nice moments, the production was marred on this particular night by dropped lines and hesitancy with the dialogue. Like so much of Foote’s work, this piece depends on an almost musical ear and sense for each character's tone—from chattering gossips to slow-talking loners, there is a distinct rhythm inherent in the language. To lose this is to miss so much of the nuances of the piece. One should note that there is no intermission in this particular production.