By Horton Foote; Directed by Austin Pendleton
Produced by La Femme Theatre Productions
Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 7.16.17
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street
by Ken Kaissar on 6.20.17
Angelina Fiordellisi, Karen Ziemba, Korinne Tetlow and Lynn Cohen in The Traveling Lady. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent revival of an early play by one of America’s most prolific playwrights.
Horton Foote’s 1954 play The Traveling Lady is getting an excellent revival by La Femme Theatre Productions, under the direction of Austin Pendleton. La Femme is “dedicated to the exploration and celebration of the universal female experience” which is one of those rare mission statements to feature a focused goal with an earnest intent. Pendleton, a board member and the mentor to Executive Director Jean Lichty, evidently played an integral role in the company’s inception. Here, he directs a cast of theatre veterans, featuring the hilarious Lynn Cohen and the elegant Karen Ziemba, as well as a six-year-old newcomer who threatens to steal the show right from under all of these seasoned pros. With Lichty appearing in the title role, this production is clearly not just another gig for these actors, but a project driven by love and passion.
Georgette Thomas (Jean Lichty) travels to a small town in Texas with her small daughter Margaret Rose (the adorable and irresistible Korinne Tetlow) upon the impending release of her husband Henry Thomas (PJ Sosko) from prison. Unfortunately, Henry does not share his wife’s eagerness for the reunion—he resorts to drinking upon first sight of her. Ultimately, The Traveling Lady illuminates the compassion and kindness that an entire community is capable of showing a lost woman who is at the mercy of a broken man. It does indeed take a village.
Lichty could not have hired a better director for this production. Pendleton brings tremendous reverence to Foote, his ensemble, and the art of theatre in general, directing every moment with grace and sensitivity. Harry Feiner’s simple but complete set design succeeds in transporting us to rural Texas, a world that is completely foreign and many moons away from this Off Broadway theatre in the West Village.
Lynne Cohen’s brilliant performance as Mrs. Mavis, the declining elderly lady next door whose mind is running away from her, is one of the production’s highlights. She allows us to laugh compassionately at her character’s unfortunate condition without ridicule. I’m not sure dementia has ever been depicted with equal parts humor and dignity as it is here.
While the production is top notch, the script itself is not Foote’s best. With an oeuvre of 54 plays, Horton Foote is one of the most prolific playwrights of the twentieth century. But this play was written decades before he had developed into the master playwright he would ultimately become. More importantly, The Traveling Lady is noticeably the product of a bygone era that holds very little meaning for us today. It portrays a time in which women invested all of their hopes and dreams on the men they married, and lived and died by their husbands’ demons and weaknesses.
Thank goodness that is no longer the world in which we live. And so what purpose does reminding audiences of this thankfully obsolete period serve, particularly when the producing company is dedicated to the “universal female experience”? Is this dependence on a broken man universal? I hope not. The play doesn’t illuminate a truth about today or strike a chord of universality. So why revisit what feels like a writing exercise in the expansive 70-year career of a literary giant? I don’t have the answer. But if you are a Foote aficionado, you’ll find his play successfully and faithfully realized here with great love and loyalty.
(The Traveling Lady plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, through July 16, 2017. The running time is 1 hour 45 minutes with no intermission. Performances through Wednesdays at 2; Thursdays and Fridays at 7; Saturdays at 2 and 7; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $65 and are available at cherrylanetheatre.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
The Traveling Lady is by Horton Foote. Directed by Austin Pendleton. Set and Lighting Design is by Harry Feiner. Costume Design is by Theresa Squire. Sound Design and Music Composition is by Ryan Rumery. Wig Design is by Paul Huntley. Stage Manager is Denise Wilcox
The cast is Larry Bull, Lynn Cohen, Angelina Fiordellisi, Jean Lichty, George Morfogen, Ron Piretti, PJ Sosko, Jill Tanner, Korinne Tetlow and Karen Ziemba.