Story: A late-winter snowstorm in 1955 forces a bus to make an unexpected stop at Grace’s Diner about 25 miles west of Kansas City. A young woman named Cherie runs in seeking help from Grace, her assistant Elma and local sheriff Will Masters, who has stopped by the diner to warn the bus driver that roads are impassable until morning.
Cherie says she’s been abducted by a young cowboy named Bo, who met her in Kansas City and plans to take her to his ranch in Montana and marry her there. Trouble is, nightclub entertainer Cherie has no interest in marriage, although she admits to spending a night with Bo which obviously made quite an impression.
Also on board the bus are Bo’s older pal Virgil and Dr. Gerald Lyman, an itinerant professor who says mysteriously that he’s on a pilgrimage of sorts throughout America, as well as Carl the bus driver on his regular route.
While the snow continues to fall, action inside the diner heats up as the brash and wild Bo refuses to take ‘no’ for an answer from Cherie or anyone else, including the sheriff. Meanwhile, Dr. Lyman strikes up a conversation with the young and inexperienced Elma, heaping compliments upon her in ways that unsettle the observant Grace.
For her part, Grace seems mighty happy to learn that Carl will be spending more than a few minutes in her company. The weather may be raging outside, but the hormones inside Grace’s Diner are percolating at a pretty fast clip as well.
Highlights: Clayton Community Theatre has revived one of playwright William Inge’s best-known plays from the mid-20th century. Director Sam Hack coaxes agreeable performances from his enthusiastic cast in a nicely paced production.
Other Info: Inge, who for a while was a drama and music critic for the St. Louis Times newspaper and taught at Washington University in the 1940s, was known as the “playwright of the Midwest” for his slice-of-life dramas frequently set in the Heartland. Works such as Picnic, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and Come Back, Little Sheba as well as Bus Stop helped Inge make his mark on Broadway in the 1950s.
Unfortunately, Bus Stop hasn’t aged very well. The focal relationship between Bo and Cherie just isn’t very funny, although one wonders if more-or-less sexual abuse was perceived as more humorous in the era when Bus Stop was written. Still, the play is better than the basically unwatchable movie of the same name from 1956, if that’s any consolation.
Hack sets the mood for Clayton Community Theatre’s version with a delightful sound design solely comprised of popular tunes from the mid-’50s. He also reprises the diner set designed by Andrew Cary, Zac Cary and Nada Vaughn which was utilized, with minor variations, for CCT’s previous production of August Wilson’s drama, Two Trains Running, which is set a decade later in Pittsburgh.
Amy Ruprecht’s lighting effectively delineates various times of the day and night while Jean Heckmann’s costumes reflect both the era and the occupations of the various characters. Kelly Hunter’s props embellish the look of the set, too.
Britteny Henry brings pizzazz to the role of the fluttery chanteuse Cherie, a part played by Marilyn Monroe in the film version. She conveys Cherie’s exuberant personality while also underscoring her impoverished upbringing. As Grace, Erin Struckhoff shows the worldly proprietor’s love for life on the prairie as well as compassion for her high school employee Elma and a zest for Carl’s ‘visits.’
Jeff Struckhoff brings an easy likability to bus driver Carl, while Jeff Lovell does well as the high-principled but fair sheriff Will. Gene Rauscher is believable as Virgil, the cowhand who also serves as a father figure for the wild and reckless Bo. The latter role is handled OK by Michael Bouchard, but it really isn’t a very flattering character to portray.
Joe O’Connor does a fine job as the creepy Professor Lyman, who has a weakness for booze and very young women as well as an aversion to authority, which explains his lingering unemployment. Lucy Sappington completes the cast as the sweet, good-hearted Elma, highly flattered by the attention of an older man.
Inge filled his three-act, two-hour work with a variety of characters, some certainly more believable than others, and director Hack does a credible job extracting fine performances from many of his players. One has to wonder, though, about the merits of reviving a creaky show like this at all.
Play: Bus Stop
Company: Clayton Community Theatre
Venue: Washington University South Campus Theatre
Dates: February 8, 9, 10, 11
Tickets: $15-$20; contact 721-9228 or brownpapertickets.com
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photo courtesy of John Lamb