The Trip to Bountiful is richly rewarding, poignant and supebly directed in the California Conservatory Theater of San Leandro! Light in the PIazza will light up your evening with music and romance, at the Willows Mainstage in Concord!

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.
Let’s take a romantic little trip to Florence, Italy, by way of the Willows Mainstage Theater in Walnut Creek and their current dynamic and melodious production of Crain Lucas and Adam Guettel’s “The Light in the Piazza”. This is my first journey back to a local theatre in over a month, waylaid by my recent knee replacement surgery, and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to see this richly rewarding musical before it closes on March 3rd. If you enjoy the power and rewarding sound of trained operatic voices and being swept away in romantic passion, then “The Light in the Piazza” is the perfect recipe for an evening of entertainment.

Margaret Johnson (Deborah Del Mastro) has returned to Florence in 1953 with her 26 year old daughter, Clara (Rachel Robinson), to revisit and celebrate a period in Margaret’s life 20 years earlier, in which she and her husband, Roy Johnson (Dean Creighton) first found their love. Margaret wants to share with her lovely and naïve daughter the beauty of this ancient Roman city, exploring its history, its art, its culture, and the warmth of its people. Little does she know at this point, that the warmth of its people may soon become an insurmountable problem and at the same time a life changing opportunity.

As Clara joyfully explores and runs about the ancient plazas, its narrow streets and quaint little shops like a joyful child, a playful gust of wind lifts her large wide brimmed hat from her head, catapults it skyward, providing a windward game of “catch me if you can”. Suddenly, as if by fate, the hat is dropped opportunistically right into the hands of a very handsome young Italian man, Fabrizio Naccarelli (Robert Dornaus). As Fabrizio seeks out the hat’s owner, he is suddenly smitten by the beauty and innocence of the young lady, Clara, to whom he has just returned the hat. Their smiles magically engage each other and in their exacerbated madcap verbal maze of broken English and broken Italian straight out of an Italian/English dictionary, they attempt to find a way to communicate with each other, at least enough to provide some little verbal bread crumb clues that will lead them back to each other and future opportunities to get to know the other.

Even though Clara’s mother can see a real depth of passion in the eyes of the young couple, she does not want her daughter to fall in love with a foreigner in another country, as such an international love story could be fraught with many barriers and problems. Fabrizio is undeterred, and he manages to track Clara down on more than one occasion, even with Clara’s mother throwing every obstacle in the young lover’s path, trying desperately to keep them apart. Fabrizio even manages to get his father, Senior Naccarelli (Jonathan Spencer) and his mother, Signora Naccaralli (Teress Byrne) to assist him by befriending the mother, Margaret, and inviting the pair home to meet his family. Even though the pairing initially seems implausible, both families soon realize that perhaps the relationship between the two could be workable after all. Margaret harbors a deep secret about an injury that her daughter sustained as a child, a mental disability that seems to keep her daughter much younger than her actual age. The relationship matures as does the daughter, who suddenly shows signs of individual strength and independence. It is not long until a wedding appears on the horizon but not without unforeseen obstacles.

There are also some underlying subliminal marital problems in both the Johnson and the Naccarelli Family (primarily with the older son, Giuseppi (Matthew Provencal) and his wife, Franca Naccarelli (Vanessa Lucera)), that adds to the complexity of the story.

This beautifully staged musical love story is enriched with a live 4 piece orchestra under the direction of Kim Vetterli and a superlative 12 member cast that adds vibrancy in each and every song with each voice as beautiful as one could possibly envision it might be. Many of the lyrics are in pure Italian or a mixture of broken English and Italian, as many of the characters are fluent only in Italian. Eric Inman directs this production with excellent foresight and skill. There is a new sound system that is much approved over the old sound system as well.

The Broadway version of this show was nominated for 11 Tony and 11 Drama Desk Awards (22 total) and was richly rewarded winning 11 awards altogether. On June 15, 2006, shortly before its closing night, the Broadway show was broadcast on the PBS television series Live from Lincoln Center, and attracted more than two million viewers.

This romantic and heartwarming production continues Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., now through March 3rd. The Willows mainstage theatre is located at 1975 Diamond Boulevard (in the Willows Shopping Center) in Concord. For ticket reservations and more information call (925) 798-1300 and or visit their website at