In Bus Stop, the lighter of the two plays, the roles call for well-developed definition of the characters, since they are the focus rather than any major developments. Some of the students do really well with the challenges; others don’t seem to be able to bring out enough of the specifics and complexities which Inge wrote.
This production is directed by Gregory Lehane and he has put his personal stamp on it, as if trying to make a comment. He’s trimmed the play down to about 90 minutes, had scenic designer Josh Smith create an abstract set and calls for his actors to suggest the passage of time by singing upstage in shadows. And, instead of having the restaurant look real with real props and furniture, he has his cast bring on and remove some of that even while references to other, missing scenery remain in the script. Lehane adds nothing to the play with these tricks but causes no harm. The actors still have the major assignments to make the dialogue work no matter how everything looks.
Four inter-state bus travelers and their driver are stranded for many hours in small town restaurant. They interact among themselves, with two women who work there and with the local sheriff. The travelers are brash young cowboy Bo Decker; Virgil Blessing, Bo’s long-time ranch hand; a young woman known as Cherie, an aspiring night club singer whose past includes many casual relationships with men; and a much divorced, alcoholic college professor Dr. Gerald Lyman. Grace runs the restaurant and an intelligent high school girl, Elma, works there.
The main focus is on Bo’s near-abduction of Cherie so she can marry him as well as on Dr. Lyman and Elma’s affinity for each other despite a major age difference.
Playing Lyman offers a major challenge for a young actor, who needs to express the older man’s inherent sadness and confusion. Alex Rice does get across well some of the more humorous and self-revealing things Lyman says, but doesn’t seem able to pull everything together into one believable person. On the other hand, Jessie Ryan’s playing of young Elma remains constantly sweet, innocent and convincing.
Adrian Blake Enscoe also makes Bo just as appealing and believable. Yet Annie Heise’s playing of Cherie never suggests the young woman’s simple-mindedness and inherent vulnerability. It looks as if she or director Lehane were reluctant to portray such a stereotypical woman from a bygone time in our culture, akin to Lehane’s toying with the setting, suggesting feeling the need to update something which doesn’t need updating.
Inge wrote a good, charming, well-developed play and many of its best moments still shine in this production.
Bus Stop continues through May 5th in the Philip Chosky Theater in CMU's Purnell Center for the Arts. 412/268-2407. www.drama,cmu.edu