The title character is Georgette Thomas. She has traveled from Tyler to Harrison with her five year-old daughter Margaret Rose. Her husband Henry is soon being released from a nearby prison after a five-year sentence for a drunken fight that seriously injured another man. Georgette rents a room until she can figure things out and reunite with Henry. She and Margaret Rose become involved with the townspeople.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning Foote (1916-2009) was acclaimed for his cycle of plays that celebrated his native, rural Texas that included The Trip to Bountiful. In The Traveling Lady, he characteristically depicts the human condition with everyday conflicts, regional dialogue, and richly delineated and lovingly rendered characters. Those qualities make these vivid roles for actors.
The radiant and sunny Jean Lichty marvelously conveys all of Georgette’s yearning and optimism. PJ Sosko as Henry offers a winning portrait of a lovable rogue and is a terrific singer and guitarist as well. Child performer Korinne Tetlow’s Margaret Rose is a feisty and suitably girlish characterization.
Best known for her musical theater appearances, Karen Ziemba is quite touching in her role as Sitter Mavis, a harried spinster. Employing her expressive features, wide eyes and melodious voice, Ms. Ziemba makes a great impression. As her mother, Lynn Cohen hilariously overplays the old lady’s quirkiness to the audience’s delight.
Veteran character George Morfogen slyly makes the most of his expositional cameo at the beginning of the play as a wily, elderly judge. Emitting abundant warmth, Angelina Fiordellisi is the good-natured neighbor of the Mavises, Clara Breedlove. As her widowed brother Slim Murray, the soulful Larry Bull is heartfelt playing this solid man who falls in in love with Georgette.
Jill Tanner is comically enchanting as the temperance, busybody Mrs. Tillman who takes Henry in and strives to reform him. In the silent role of the Sheriff who brings order, Ron Piretti excels at deadpan histrionics.
Besides shepherding these sensitive performances, director Austin Pendleton has inventively staged the play. The small space is creatively utilized with the actors perpetually making entrances and exits through the theater’s center aisle past the audience, onto and off the stage. Mr. Pendleton’s keen direction injects insight, a measured pace and incites emotion, perfectly realizing Foote’s introspective vision.
A beautifully painted backdrop of the sky and fields, framed by old telephone poles and fences, accompanied by vintage lawn furniture, are the realistic highlights of Harry Feiner’s simple but glorious scenic design. Mr. Feiner’s artfully straightforward lighting design vibrantly captures the texture of the play’s time and place.
Everyone is authentically represented by Theresa Squire’s masterfully homespun costume design.
Composer Ryan Rumery’s accomplished original music has an appropriate country and western twang, but his sound design verges on brash intrusiveness, overpowering his pleasant music.
Starring Kim Stanley as Georgette and featuring Jack Lord as Slim, The Traveling Lady opened on Broadway in 1954, and only ran for 30 performances. Though decidedly not a major play, this production is highly successful. It also affirms the enduring power of Horton Foote, who carved out for himself an estimable niche in the annals of dramatic literature.
The Traveling Lady (extended through July 30 2017)
Cherry Lane Theatre’s Founder’s Project with La Femme Theatre Productions
Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.cherrylanetheatre.org
Running time: one hour and 40 minutes with no intermission