Nyack Sketch Log: Our Village Was A Stop on The Trip to Bountiful

by Bill Batson

NSL89_Bountiful Featured SketchNyack was a stop on The Trip to Bountiful.  The play of that name was just nominated for a Tony Award for best revival, and its author, Horton Foote,  lived in this house in Upper Nyack in the 1950s. Foote joined theater greats Helen Hayes, Charles MacArthur, Ben Hecht and Carson McCullers who called our village home. For a moment in time, if you wanted to find some of the most important figures in American theater, you need only take a stroll down Broadway – in Nyack.

Foote moved to Nyack from New York City with his wife, Lillian and three children. His fourth child was born at Nyack Hospital. When Foote arrived, he was already a prolific and successful playwright and a major force in the new media of the day, television.

NSL89_Horton Foote

Horton Foote

The Trip to Bountiful originally aired on NBC on March 1, 1953. Lillian Gish and Eva Marie Saint reprised their roles on Broadway a year later at what was then Henry Miller’s Theater. The recent revival of that play, directed by Michael Wilson, opened 60 years later at the same venue, which has been extensively renovated and is now named for Stephen Sondheim.

Nyack resident and composer John Gromada, who was nominated for Best Sound Design for the revival of Bountiful, first worked with Horton Foote on the  2000 production of The Carpetbaggers Children with Jean Stapleton at Lincoln Center Theater.

NSL89_Hallie Foote and Jphn Gromada

John Gromada and Hallie Foote (3rd and 4th l.-r.)

Although Foote no longer lived in Nyack when they met, Gromada said that he and the playwright bonded over their mutual affection for our river village. Over the years, Gromada has worked on six Horton Foote projects.

According to Gromada, Foote attended every single rehearsal for his productions before his death in 2009. Gromada watched as Horton’s daughter, Hallie, who is now executor of the Foote Estate, continued her father’s tradition and attended all of the rehearsals for The Trip To Bountiful.

Hallie was six when the family arrived in Nyack.  She remembers her transplanted city cat eating the heads off all of her mother’s tulips at their first home on North Broadway and family picnics on the banks of the Hudson River.

NSL89_To Kill a MockingbirdSeveral years after moving to Nyack, Foote would craft a script that not only won him an Academy Award; but also helped create a national discussion about racial injustice. That screenplay, To Kill a Mockingbird, was written at the family’s second Nyack home.

Hallie describes a procession of creative heavy weights visiting their house on Ferris Lane in South Nyack.  “Alan Pakula who went on to direct All the President’s Men, was the producer for To Kill a Mockingbird and spent a lot of time meeting with my father. He needed to have a strong sense that a script was in as good shape as possible before he would start shooting. Bob Mulligan, the director, was there and I believe that Harper Lee came once.” Lee wrote the best selling book the inspired the film.

Soon after winning the Academy Award for the script, the Footes relocated to New Hampshire. As a 16 year-old at the time of the move, Hallie was crushed. “I told my father that he had ruined my life.  But I think he wanted to get further away from the pressures of business.”

The Trip to Bountiful Gets 4 Tony Award Nominations

Michael Wilson’s production of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful received a total of four Tony Award nominations:

  • Nyack resident John Gromada  for Best Sound Design in a Play
  • Cicely Tyson for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play
  • Condola Rashad for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Play
  • Best Revival of a Play.

The Tony Awards will be announced on June 9, 2013.

The artistic and creative demands of the Horton Foote estate now fall on Hallie’s shoulders. She recently formed the Horton Foote Legacy Foundation to promote her father’s work as well as his craft.  “We provide access to my father’s childhood home in Wharton, Texas as a residence for writers.” A great deal of the content of Foote’s work, including the Orphan’s Home Cycle and The Trip to Bountiful, is drawn from that region. Recent recipients of the foundation’s support include Susan Blackburn Smith award winner Annie Baker, author of Circle Mirror Transformation (2009) and The Flick (2013) and David Lindsey-Abaire, author of Good People (2011).

Hallie works on and off the stage to preserve her father’s legacy. An accomplished actor, she starred in Dividing the Estate, produced by Lincoln Center on Broadway in 2008 and will perform the role of Sybil in The Old Friends, which will open at the Signature Theater in 2013. Along with director Michael Wilson, composer John Gromada and her husband, actor Devon Abner, she has created  an ensemble that is interpreting the work Horton Foote for new and expanding audiences.

LAI_Gromada_Trip to Bountiful_According to some Broadway insiders, Cicely Tyson is a sentimental favorite to win the Tony for best actress in The Trip to Bountiful.  The 88 year-old actor achieved national prominence, and an Emmy, for her role as a freed slave in the 1974 made-for-TV-movie The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Tyson has enjoyed glowing reviews for Bountiful, her first appearance on stage in thirty years.

A Tony Award nomination alone has returned Tyson to the pinnacle of her profession and demonstrates the continued relevance and popularity of the work of Horton Foote. A Tony would be a trip beyond bountiful for both.

See also: Local Arts Index: John Gromada

Photo Credit: The Tony Awards

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: ” Our Village Was A Stop on the Trip to Bountiful” ©: 2013 Bill Batson.

The Nyack Sketch Log is sponsored by The Corner Frame Shop at 40 South Franklin Street in Nyack, NY.

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