The Trip to Bountiful is richly rewarding, poignant and supebly directed in the California Conservatory Theater of San Leandro!

Author Horton Foote began theatrical work as an actor after studying at the famous Pasadena Playhouse between 1931 and 1932. He also had a tremendous talent for writing, and before long, he began receiving better reviews for is writing efforts than for his acting skills. In 1953, his television play, The Trip to Bountiful, premiered on NBC-TV, and he subsequently adapted it for stage and film. The 1985 film version earned a Best Actress Academy Award for Geraldine Page. This past week I was very fortunate to catch the California Conservatory Theater of San Leandro’s production staring the highly respected professional actress, Phoebe Moyer in the lead role.

The first time I saw this play, I was totally captivated by the OnStage Theatre Production in Pleasant Hill, probably 15 to 20 years ago. It was such a moving play, that it has never escaped that special place in my memory reserved for truly memorable theater. Now you have an opportunity to see one of the best productions of this touching, heartwarming and at the same time frightening story about seniors who are smothered by economics, love, fear and jealousy. This was so good, with such outstanding acting at every level, it seemed like Horton’s Trip to Bountiful, was reborn!

The Trip to Bountiful is a poignant and passionate tale about a senior who must live with her son and daughter-in-law, in Houston, Texas, in a claustrophobic three room apartment. The story is set in the 1940s and tells the story of an elderly woman, Carrie Watts (Moyer), who wants to return to Bountiful, the small Texas farming community where she was born, where she married, where she worked the land herself, and where she lived all of her life. This was also where she raised her son and buried two of her other children. At this time in her life, she has serious health issues but still longs to see her old home before she dies. She would love to move back to Bountiful, and desperately needs convince her son, who is struggling to make ends meet every day of their lives, to help her navigate the journey back home. Unfortunately, she cannot survive by herself, even though she receives a small government pension check every month, upon which her son and daughter have also become dependent.

Jessie Mae (Sylvia Burboeck), Carrie’s daughter-in-law, has grown up in urban Houston and is attached to the conveniences of big city life; the movie theaters; the nail and hair parlors; the bridge clubs and even the drug stores where she can pop in for a coke any time she feels she needs one. Now as an adult, she insists on maintaining that lifestyle even though they really cannot do so on her husband’s earnings. Selfishly, Jessie Mae shames mother Carrie into turning over her check to them every month.

Mother Watts has attempted numerous times to return to her former home, but is frequently stopped from leaving Houston by Jessie Mae and Ludie, who tends to be overly protective towards his mother and won't let her travel alone. This is why Jessie Mae, insists on controlling the pension check belonging to her mother-in-law.

Carrie is angry, frustrated and determined to outwit her son and bossy daughter-in-law, and secretly sets out to catch a train, only to find that trains don't stop in Bountiful anymore. She eventually boards a bus destined for a town near Bountiful. On the journey she befriends a young woman traveling alone, Thelma (Siobhan Marie Doherty), and reminisces to he about her younger years and her old friends.

The sense of these people living in irritatingly close quarters, with demands at all levels, is exquisitely conveyed by Sylvia Burboeck who plays Jessie Mae perfectly! Steve Rhyne is totally in control of the stoic, sensitive and superbly understated, timid but caring son, Ludie. Thelma is well played by Siobhan Marie Doherty. There are two additional actors. WM Hunter convincing plays a Greyhound ticket counter person and Michael Fay adds a special depth to the characterization of a caring and personable Sheriff. Finally, all of these talented people reach even greater heights when they play off an immensely talented premier stage and commercial actress such as Phoebe Moyer. Ms. Moyer has won numerous Bay Area Theater Critic Circle Awards, and played in just about every major theater in the Bay Area, garnering rave review after rave review. Once again, she proves that she is tops in her field and again earns another rave review, an “absolutely superlative” vote, from this very humble and appreciative reviewer.

This production is well worth the drive to San Leandro as this is a real gem. Director Kimberly Richards, a professional actress and director well known throughout the Bay Area, and performs nationally, has brought together a cast of remarkable diversity, delivering a poignant and moving production. The California Conservative Theater of San Leandro is located in a theater facility in the City adjacent to the San Leandro city offices and located at 999 E. 14th Street in downtown San Leandro, at the corner of Toler Avenue. There is ample parking during all show times in the City of San Leandro City Hall parking lot, just across Toler Avenue. Tickets range in price between $22 and $25 each, a real bargain for professional level entertainment. The box office is in the entrance of the theater and tickets can be ordered by calling the box office at (510) 632-8850. Box office hours are Tuesday - Friday, 12 noon to 4pm. I suggest taking highway 24 West through the Caldecott Tunnel, then take Highway 13 south and shortly after it transitions into highway 580, you exit at Dutton Avenue. Take Dutton west to east 14th (the main street of downtown San Leandro), then turn south for four blocks until you come to the theater. The show closes this coming weekend and I highly recommend that you find a way to catch it before it closes on the 26th of this month. Please check out their web site at for more information about this show and the upcoming season.