The late Horton Foote could write so effectively and beautifully, as has frequently been proven. The evidence is sensitively on display again in a revival of his “The Traveling Lady,” presented by the Cherry Lane Theatre and La Femme Theatre Productions. The characters he has created grow on you right up until the very touching ending.
There is the unpretentious setting in the small Texas town of Harrison in 1950. We meet the local characters and get some of the back story. Lynn Cohen makes the most of her colorful role as the dotty Mrs. Mavis and her funny lines.
The main thrust of the drama begins when Georgette Thomas (Jean Lichty) comes to town with her young daughter, Margaret Rose (Korinne Tetlow). Georgette intends to meet her messed up husband, Henry (PJ Sosko), who is working after being released from prison and having returned to the town where he grew up in abusive conditions. He delays meeting Georgette until he feels ready, and meanwhile, Georgette needs a place to stay and is introduced to a friendly local judge (George Morfogen) who owns property. She doesn’t want to admit her husband was in prison, but finally does so and gets a sympathetic response.
She and her daughter are offered shelter by Clara Breedlove (Angelina Fiordellisi), whose brother, Slim Murray (Larry Bull), a widower, befriends Georgette. Slim is a decent, quiet man, and he is soon smitten by the lovely Georgette, but he is shy about making a move. However, when Henry commits a theft and is captured, which will surely send him off to prison again, Slim facilitates the opportunity for Henry to meet his wife and daughter (handcuffs are taken off) and say goodbye to her and the child.
The situation at that point is sad and deeply emotional, thanks to the acting all around. Henry suddenly breaks loose and is pursued, and Georgette is left stranded and must plan a next step. Will Slim get the courage to proclaim his feelings and if so, what will be Georgette’s response?
The beauty of the play, directed with care and intelligence by Austin Pendleton, lies in Foote’s ability to develop believable characters and place them in believable surroundings. The excellent cast succeeds in making Foote’s characters come alive. Lichty as Georgette gives such an appealing performance that one roots for her to move ahead with her life successfully.
In Pendleton’s staging the aisles are used for entrances and exits, which takes advantage of the small theater’s limitations. Harry Feiner’s scenic design suggests the small town atmosphere in which the drama unfolds. Everything unites to make one leave with appreciation of having had a moving experience and renewed respect for the author. At the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street. Reviewed June 23, 2017.