BUS STOP is set in a diner extraordinarily designed by Bruce Lachovic, divided into 3 sections, superbly constructed by Eugene DeChristopher. Stage Left we see a square table with 2 chairs; at Center Stage is a round table downstage, and at the back Center Stage is a very large window with a bench underneath the window. Stage Right we see a diner counter with seating for six people.
The lighting opportunities provided by the large window are exceptionally used by Lighting Designer Tina Johnson to do her stuff with a variety of lighting changes needed to indicate the passage of hours in the diner.
The spot-on 1955 costumes are by Costume Designer Michael A. Berg. The talents of Sound Designer Billie Cox are evident every time the door opens, and we hear the rushing sound of wind through falling snow as well as when we hear the dulcet tones of Virgil’s strumming on his guitar.
This diner is located about 25 miles west of Kansas City, where buses running between Kansas City and Topeka stop to drop off and pick up passengers. But on this night in early March (1955), a freak snow storm has caused the road to be closed, and the few bus passengers have a weather-enforced layover in the diner between approximately 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. until crews reopen the road.
There are 8 characters (5 from the bus) in the diner, and romantic (or quasi-romantic) relationships ensue between Grace (Mary Ann Rodgers) and the bus driver Carl (Jeffrey Taylor), between Dr. Lyman (Ron Dritz) and Elma (Ariana Mahallati), and between Cheri (Laura Peterson) and Bo (Andrew Morris).
The older authority figures outside the romantic relationships are Virgil (Aeron Macintyre) and Will (Steve Price). As we quickly see, each of these characters has a different objective in this enclosed space and cannot leave due to the snow storm, the combination of which is quite entertaining for the audience.
BUS STOP is a romantic play with some comedic elements. Character descriptions find Grace as the pretty (in a fading-hard-bitten way) owner of the diner (a 40-ish grass widow). She has a passionate side to her nature, loving a good fight and the attention of a good man. Elma is the diner’s waitress and is an intelligent but impressionable and naive high-school girl. Will is the local sheriff – tough as nails and brusque in manner – but good-hearted and a deacon of his church — highly moral in the general sense of the word. Dr. Lyman is an articulate college philosophy professor who is charming but cannot hold a professional position for a few reasons — an obvious drinking problem, his resistance to any kind of authority, and his penchant for young women.
Cheri is the female lead in this play. She is an attractive young woman who comes from a difficult but hill folk background and has left her innocence far behind. She is an aspiring night-club hillbilly singer but has never worked anywhere above the level of a cheap dive. We sense she is trying to get away from two of the other passengers.
The leading man is Bo, a brash young cowboy with boorish manners that hide a naiveté almost as profound as Elma’s. Bo has convinced himself that Cheri will be his bride, though she wants nothing to do with him. He has for all intents and purposes kidnapped Cheri to take her to Montana to marry her.
Another important male character is Virgil, an older, wiser cowboy who has become a father-figure to Bo (orphaned at the age of 10) as well as Bo’s head ranch-hand.
We come to understand that the ongoing relationship between Carl and Grace is purely sexual in nature when he’s just passing through on his route.
Director Chris Haines has done a magnificent job and is supported by a cast that delivers stellar performances, each and every one – whether it’s Cheri, a true survivor jaded by her past – including her many failed romances – who somehow (through Laura Peterson) is seen as a sweet young thing from the Ozarks trying to make her way in the world – or Grace who (through Mary Ann Rodgers) manages to walk the fine line between world weariness and optimism with, yes, grace. Aeron Macintyre plays Virgil with the restraint that belies a strong moral core – he’s the big brother every tough kid ought to have, dispensing good advice (and country song) in equal measure. Finally, it would be easy to play Dr. Lyman as a clichéd slurring drunk, but Ron Dritz managed to find his own unique way to show this cynical sot as someone worth loving.
I suppose if I tried hard, I could find things to criticize but then I remember the smile on my face the whole evening – the joy that enhances this wonderfully balanced and in-sync cast, and the humor, drama, and romance of Inge’s brilliant script – and any negative thoughts seem to disappear. I then realize the most important thing I can impart is the suggestion that you should try to get yourself to Ross Valley to experience this winning production of a classic American play.
Photography by Gregg LeBlanc
Graphic Designer Jayme Catalano
Bus Stop, written by William Inge and directed by Christian Haines, began March 3 and will run through March 26, 2017. Regular performances are scheduled for Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays 8:00 p.m., Saturdays 8:00 p.m., and Sunday Matinees are at 2:00 p.m. The remaining Talk Back will be March 19, following the matinee performance.
For tickets to Bus Stop, go online to www.rossvalleyplayers.com or call 800/838-9555, and tickets for School Groups, call 415/456-9555 extension 3. All performances take place at The Barn, home of the Ross Valley Players, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.
Coming Up Next will be WAY OUT WEST by Joel D. Eis and directed by Buzz Halsing. It will run from April 7 through 23, 2017.
Flora Lynn Isaacson