CenterStage’s revival of Bus Stop by William Inge is a heartfelt and charming tribute to a simpler time—the 1950’s American Midwest—that maybe wasn’t so simple after all.
Written in 1955, the play depicts a single night in a Kansan diner, where a group of strangers take refuge from a storm of epic proportions. Under a constant flurry of snow, and with cleverly specific costumes (Clint Ramos), the cast navigates Inge’s text with ease and delight.
Overall, David Schweizer has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable piece that is pitch-perfect for the holiday season.
At the same time, Director David Schweizer challenges the assertion that Inge’s work exists solely in the realm of “theatre as comfort food.” He writes, “Doesn’t Bus Stop feature a deviant alcoholic, a physically abusive cowboy who kidnaps a young woman to drag her across state lines, a lonely and sex-starved café owner, a brooding sheriff with a shady past, and many others—all thrown together against their will…?” Indeed, this production does much to highlight the play’s darker elements—often to great success. As the night progresses, they increasingly rupture the seams of normalcy, complicating the otherwise happy ending, and, perhaps, giving a more accurate picture of Inge’s imagined world.
While the play rests upon the back of the ensemble, the story centers around the coming-of-age of the diner’s young waitress, Elma (played beautifully by Kayla Ferguson). Her wide-eyed innocence acts as a lens through which the audience understands the desperate, often comical lengths to which the other characters will go to escape their lonely and cynical existence. James Noone’s intricate set (which is as transient as the diner’s patrons) cannot contain the sexual tension between these lost souls; it ricochets around the theatre, clawing its way into the most innocent of conversations.
Despite her absence from the middle section of the play–off doing guess-what with the bus driver–the diner’s proprietor, Grace Hoylard (Pilar Witherspoon) expertly captures this balance of romance and reality. Her interactions with Elma are both touching and hilarious; the two are perfectly matched for this production, and well-complemented by Cherie (Susanna Hoffman), a simplistic but street-smart nightclub singer, Dr. Lyman (Patrick Husted), a well-intentioned but deeply flawed, Shakespearean alcoholic, and Will Masters (Michael Nichols), the town’s evangelical sheriff and voice of hard-won wisdom.
The show also benefits from live music, courtesy of Virgil (Larry Tobias), a wandering cowboy and mentor to Cherie’s lover-turned-kidnapper, Bo Decker (Jack Fellows). The latter’s performance strays into caricature, but is ultimately redeemed as the half-reformed rodeo clown bids farewell to his love. Ms. Hoffman deserves special praise for turning a familiar and relatively straightforward character into Elma’s eccentric and compelling foil, exploding with distress signals from the moment she takes the stage.
Overall, David Schweizer has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable piece that is pitch-perfect for the holiday season. Audiences will share a knowing laugh with these archetypical-yet-nuanced characters as they weather the storm of their lives.
Running Time: two hours, with one fifteen minute intermission.
Bus Stop runs through December 23rd at CenterStage, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore. For tickets call the Box Office at 410.332.0033 or click here.