Top: Martin Vidal as Dr. Lyman, Lewis D. Mize as Carl, Kacey Roye as Grace and Bekka Broyles as Elma. Above: Alison Bridget Chambers as Cherie and Hunter Wulff as Bo.Photos: Siggi Ragnar
May 10, 2017
In the years following the establishment of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, there were huge changes in various aspects of land transportation and its customs. Playwright William Inge's Bus Stop (1955) illustrates a small but significant one that has almost disappeared: that of commercial buses routinely stopping at small town diners.
As with most of Inge's plays (e.g.
Come Back, Little Sheba; Picnic), Bus
Stop is essentially a character-driven
slice of life. The simple story line
involves a Greyhound bus driver, four
passengers and several locals who are
snowbound for hours in a cozy street corner café until the roads are cleared. The Classic Theatre's take, as directed by Kelly Hilliard Roush – assisted by Catherine Babbitt – is smooth and relaxed, rightfully downplaying action and focusing on the interaction of its laudable cast.
That approach allows us to get to know the characters fairly well. They include Grace (Kacey Roye), the savvy owner of the diner; Elma (Bekka Broyles), a pert teenaged waitress; womanizing bus driver Carl (Lewis D. Mize), who has a “friends with benefits” thing going with Grace; blustery local sheriff Will Masters (Jim Mammarella); Dr. Gerald Lyman (Martin Vidal), a loud-mouthed, narcissistic former college professor with an unseemly interest in Elma; Cherie ( Alison Bridget Chambers), a charming young lounge singer being abducted by temperamental 21-year-old Montana cowboy Bo Decker (Hunter Wulff), who believes she's agreed to marry him; and Bo's easygoing mentor and ranch foreman, Virgil Blessing (John O'Neill).
Ms. Chambers is completely believable as the poorly educated but streetwise Cherie, who arrives clutching her suitcase, desperately seeking a place to hide from the brute who is angrily pursuing her. Her gradual “evolution” is expertly paced, in tandem with that of Mr. Wulff's snarling, out-of-control Bo, who plainly is used to getting what he wants. He had what might have been his first-ever sexual encounter with her in nearby Kansas City and is certain that she loves him and agreed to return with him to his Montana ranch.
In a moving Act 2 transition, Bo, too, evolves from a thoughtless guy who treats people like unbroken ranch animals into his inner kid who lhas never learned empathy or social skills, but is basically okay. That shift is due primarily to the intervention of Mr. O'Neill's sublimely layered Virgil, a man of precious few words until he gently opens up to reveal the breadth of his intuition and paternal concern for Bo. Before long, Cherie reconsiders, foolish girl.
Mr. Vidal turns in a compelling performance as the loutish professor with a yen for young girls who undergoes a transition of his own.
Alfy Valdez's imaginatively detailed set features impeccable 1950s décor, down to the period posters and movie star photos, as well as a chalkboard boasting 20-cent daily specials.
As always, Diane Malone's handsome costumes are ideal, as are Rick Malone's sound designs (including a chillingly realistic snow storm).
The playwright always created real human portraits, although sometimes those portraits were incomplete. The glaring example here is the notion that the Bo and Cherie could co-habitate successfully. Alas, dysfunction too often leads to physical abuse.
That said, virtually every facet of the production is expertly crafted and delivered.
Classic Theatre: Bus Stop, by William Inge
Angling for a seat at the counter