There is a very touching — literally, tactile — moment late in the 1985 film version of Horton Foote's "The Trip to Bountiful" that switches on the emotional waterworks, and they don't stop until the end. Geraldine Page, as a widowed runaway septuagenarian named Carrie Watts, has bolted from the unhappy home-and-hearth of her overly protective son and controlling daughter-in-law in Houston and returned to the ramshackle homestead of her youth. She reaches out and feels the aged wood, and that touch releases a distant memory from her past. She does it again and again.
When Cicely Tyson walked out into the bright light of day after witnessing this, she dabbed her eyes dry and made a beeline for her agent's office. "I told him — quote — 'You get me my Trip to Bountiful, and I will retire' — unquote — that's exactly what I said," Tyson recalls. "I didn't mean the actual play, of course. I meant another role like that — as strong as those that I've had the good fortune to portray — and I will be finished. That's it. Well, that was 1985, and I consistently reminded him I wanted my Trip to Bountiful."
Fast-forward 28 years. "I don't really know how to describe this, but, about three months ago, I received a call from my assistant who told me that Van Ramsey — a costume designer I had worked with on a number of films — was looking for me. She gave me his number, and I gave him a call. He said, 'Hallie Foote wants to meet you. She's about to do the black version of The Trip to Bountiful.' Well, I just dropped the phone. I'd not said a word to anyone else — and here it had dropped right in my lap!"
The last time Tyson was on the Main Stem she was drilling book-learning into the blossoming mind of a young Welsh miner, thus sparing him the fate of his forefathers, in the 1983 revival of Emlyn Williams' The Corn Is Green at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. "That was 30 years ago," she's a bit embarrassed to admit. "I can't believe it's been that long. You know, I wasn't even thinking of Broadway. I was just thinking of the role."
Why this protracted Broadway intermission? "It's really quite challenging to go from film acting to stage acting," Tyson admits. "I need something that would entice me sufficiently to make that transition, and I wasn't able to find anything that interested me enough."
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