William Inge’s classic Bus Stop was written in the mid-fifties and at The Gallery Players’ production everything right down to set designer Edward Morris’ bread box and costume designer Meredith Neal’s use of horn-rimmed glasses reflect that awww-shucks time period. But even if director Heather Siobhan Curran had decided to take a little creative license and move the whole thing up to 2009, the plot wouldn’t allow it … for one very simple reason. In the middle of the night when a bus must pull into a roadside diner due to bad weather, instead of people sitting off to the side, watching Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog on hulu.com, checking their emailing from their Android, updating their FaceBook profiles, Twittering about how boring it is to be stuck in the middle of nowhere, or even just (yawn) listening to their iPod, they actually talk to each other. Sooooooo last century.
The last time I had all the time in the world to tell my life story in a no-distractions-allowed environment was when I was on a jury back in 1992; after 3 weeks I knew all about how Con Edison worked, the entire contents of a bachelor’s refrigerator, heard Vietnam War stories from a vet, and discussed the Torah with a rabbinical student. These were fascinating stories; but they came out slowly and over the course of weeks. The characters of Bus Stop just have the one night …
Front and center in this story are Grace (Annie Paul) and Elma (Rebecca Dealy), two waitresses pulling the night shift at the diner. Grace is in her 40s and has been married a while; she’s wise in a way you become when the whole world passes in front of you one bus at a time, stopping in for a bit on the way to “somewhere else”. Elma, on the other hand, is just a kid … so Grace gets to know more around her, gets to be the one who’s seen it all and done it all, gets to be the sage one with the world weary advice and the experience. But in one night, Elma’s about to learn that there is a whole other world out there, things her 17 year old self didn’t know existed, and things her great friend Grace wasn’t so aware of either. When the sheriff, Will (Brad Thomason) stops by to tell them that the roads are closed and they’re about to get a bus-load of visitors both Grace and Elma get excited for different reasons.
Grace, it seems, has a little flirtation going on with Carl, the Bus Driver (Justin Herfel). And of course Elma’s just grateful for the extra company. And what company it turns out to be — a seemingly distinguished “Dr.” Lyman (John Blaylock) who immediately takes a shine to the young waitress and woos her with poetry, charm and alcohol fueled bravado. Also swept into the little diner is 19 year old Cherie (Alisha Spielmann) a self-proclaimed chanteuse who is being abducted by an amorous and insistent young cowboy, Bo (Brad Lewandowski), who means to take her to his ranch in Montana and make her his wife. He is accompanied by his fellow cowboy, Virgil (Shawn Parsons).
Throughout the night everyone starts parceling out little pieces of themselves, some just to pass the time, some to persuade, some to detract, some to see how far they can get. Sometimes there’s an ulterior motive, sometimes there’s no motive at all, and some times things just slip out by accident. What starts to happen is we see that everyone isn’t as different as they seemed originally; at first Elma and Cherie seemed worlds apart but on closer inspection they’re only 2 years different in age, and throughout the night they’re both being pursued aggressively. While Bo may be brutish in his approach, throwing Cherie over his shoulder at times and stumbling through his words, Dr. Lyman is no less aggressive as he tries to convince Elma to meet him in Topeka for a symphony. His words may be smooth, his manner may be suave, but underneath he’s exactly the same as Bo, and even a bit worse. One man runs after his woman like a crashing cymbal, the other quietly loops around her like a fluttering harp, but in the end they both expect these women to be taken for a song.
One of the most charming parts of the play comes mid-way when, after Grace and Carl have both seemingly disappeared on different errands (but have met up in Grace’s apartment over the diner), Elma decides to pass the time (and break the tension) by having everyone perform in a Judy Garland/Mikey Rooney “Hey! Let’s put on a floor show!” type of way. Her enthusiasm is delightful and her desire to bring everyone’s talent to the table is done with joy and sincerity. Under Ms. Curran’s direction what easily could have been hokey and meandering turned the energy up a notched and drew the audience closer to these characters.
Still, little floor show or not, all those hours spent in close quarters with nothing to do but examine your own life and your relationship to others can drive you a little crazy, and eventually everyone has their breakdown. But this is, after all 1955, and their individual breakdowns lead to breakthroughs; this is an old fashioned story with an old fashioned set up, arch and resolution … by the time the bus can get moving again everyone’s made up their minds about whatever it was that was bothering them at the start and everyone somehow gets themselves resolved to the right path.
This great play will be running for a few more performances and no matter which one you catch, you’re welcome to join Michael Pressman, director of the recent Broadway revival of Inge’s Come Back, Little Sheba, who will be participating in a panel discussion at the end of the final show. Do yourself a favor, pull off to the side of the road and take a break at this Bus Stop.
Remaining Performance Schedule
Thu. March 26th 8 pm, Fri. March 27th 8 pm, Sat. March 28th 2 pm – matinee, Sat. March 28th 8 pm, Sun. March 29th 3 pm – matinee/panel discussion following
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