At Ford’s Theatre, a director takes a return ‘Trip to Bountiful’

Michael Wilson was a college student at the College of North Carolina in the mid-1980s when he frequented his sister for a weekly movie night that proved to be anything but regimen.

The collection that Friday night was the 1985 film adaptation of Horton Foote’s 1953 participate in “The Vacation to Bountiful.” The tale follows an aged Houston lady with a desperate want to return to her quaint hometown, but Wilson recalls that “every conquer in the movie rang true” to his 22-yr-aged self. So in 1987, when Foote spoke at an celebration in Wilson’s hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., the budding director approached his newfound idol with a question.

“I asked him, ‘Do you consider I need to go into tv, film or theater?’ ” Wilson claims. “Of training course, it is variety of a absurd question. How would he know? He does not know me. And he claimed, ‘I can not give you suggestions, but I can tell you that the function I’ve finished in the theater has been, for me, a lot more fulfilling.’ ”

Reflecting on that reaction from Foote, who died in 2009, Wilson adds: “Horton was one of the slyest, shrewdest writers and artists that I’ve recognised, and nevertheless he stated he was not answering, he gave an response, ideal?”

That discussion was the get started of a decades-long friendship amongst Foote, a celebrated dramatist recognised for producing 50-furthermore plays (and the screenplay for “To Get rid of a Mockingbird”), and Wilson, now identified as the foremost interpreter of Foote’s function. Right after directing a 50th-anniversary generation of “The Vacation to Bountiful” at Houston’s Alley Theatre in 2003, staging a 2013 Broadway revival starring Cicely Tyson and helming a 2014 Television set model, Wilson has returned to “Bountiful” at the time far more — this time to immediate a new creation jogging via Oct. 16 at Ford’s Theatre.

“I was surprised that he came aboard, because he’s performed it,” suggests Nancy Robinette, who performs the central part of Carrie Watts. “He just so completely understands the richness of the earth of the participate in and the society of the perform, and the possible in the perform to deliver out empathy.”

Robinette was not on your own in wondering that Wilson would not be intrigued the director also figured his 2014 stop by to “Bountiful” was his remaining one. To sum up his wondering at the time, he prices a line from Mrs. Watts: “I’ve experienced my journey. That is extra than plenty of to maintain me satisfied the relaxation of my daily life.”

But when Robinette and Ford’s Theatre Director Paul R. Tetreault — who, as running director at the Alley, had labored on the 2003 staging of “Bountiful” — approached Wilson about revisiting the engage in, he embraced the concept. With his mom now in her mid-80s, Wilson states he relates to the character of Ludie, Mrs. Watts’s protective son, in newfound techniques. Whilst the manufacturing was originally planned for a 2020 operate, he thinks “Bountiful” and its themes of longing for a time gone by are all the more persuasive amid the pandemic.

“It’s been a solace for me, at this moment, to be doing work on the engage in,” Wilson suggests. “Now, my lifetime condition has served tell how I can help the actors get inside these figures.”

To steer clear of re-building or echoing his former get the job done, Wilson suggests he isn’t making use of his Broadway prompt book — a master script full with technological cues and actors’ blocking — and determined not to re-observe archival footage of that production or his Television set film. Rui Rita, the lighting designer on the new generation, is a veteran of the Broadway run, but Tim Mackabee’s established and Ivania Stack’s mid-century costumes come from fresh new perspectives.

The actors convey new insights as effectively. Robinette, a D.C. theater luminary with 4 a long time of expertise on area phases, is joined by neighborhood favorites Joe Mallon as Ludie and Kimberly Gilbert as Jessie Mae, Carrie’s overbearing daughter-in-law. Outlining that the a few most important words and phrases to a director are “I do not know,” Wilson says he produced a mindful exertion in the rehearsal hall to permit his solid explore their characters and not overshare his very own working experience with the enjoy.

“He has a excellent power and keeps us on our toes, and he appears to be to enjoy the new matters we deliver to the engage in,” Robinette states. “So that’s a awesome blend, to have anyone who has labored on it, knows it and is still looking for it himself. He’s discovering it anew with us, and that is type of thrilling.”

“The Vacation to Bountiful” isn’t the only Foote project on Wilson’s plate: He’s performing on a stage musical based on Foote’s Oscar-profitable screenplay for the 1983 movie “Tender Mercies,” with a e-book by Daisy Foote, the playwright’s daughter, and music by Steve Earle. Wilson also hints that he’d appreciate to adapt the Orphans’ Dwelling Cycle — a trilogy of Foote’s performs that he directed off-Broadway in 2009 and 2010 — for television.

But very first: a detour back again to “Bountiful,” 35 many years immediately after that fateful interaction with Foote in Winston-Salem.

“I experienced no strategy then, in 1987, not only that most of my existence would be artistically, professionally and personally defined by my partnership with this writer, but also with this specific piece,” Wilson claims. “ ‘The Trip to Bountiful’ is going to be here for a very long time to occur, and it has genuinely turned out to be a single of Horton Foote’s deserving long lasting legacies.”

Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St NW. 202-347-4833. fords.org.