The Traveling Lady

By Horton Foote. Dir. Marion Castleberry. With ensemble cast. Ensemble Studio Theatre (see Off-Off Broadway).

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ADULTERY ONLY Denman, right, has a crush on the married White.

ADULTERY ONLY Denman, right, has a crush on the married White.

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Taking advantage of the success of The Trip to Bountiful’s recent revival, Ensemble Studio Theatre has stuck its own Foote in the door, unveiling a new production of the playwright’s The Traveling Lady that could be a bookend to the Signature Theatre Company production in its quiet gravity. Like Bountiful, Foote wrote The Traveling Lady in the early ’50s and set it in his stomping ground of south Texas, where manners are genteel and souls stoically suffer. Young wife Georgette Thomas (Margot White) and her daughter have journeyed to Harrison to meet her soon-to-be-paroled husband, Henry (Jamie Bennett), only to discover that he has been free for a month. Their sudden meeting sends the weak, dissolute Henry on a bender, which in turn inspires the pity of townie Slim Murray (Stan Denman).

Foote’s world is a deceptive one. Conventional wisdom has it that, dramatically speaking, very little happens in Harrison (where most of his plays are set). But closer observation reveals that personal disappointment continually darkens the screen doors in Horton’s hamlet, and by the final curtain the sheriff is bound to make an appearance. Henry’s entrance in The Traveling Lady acts like a stick penetrating a still pond, sending painful ripples across a seemingly placid world of “Sir,” “Ma’am” and summer clothing. Working with cast members that are as sensitive to one another as the play’s characters, director Marion Castleberry’s finely calibrated work ensures that each hurt registers fully while none is overplayed.—Robert Simonson

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