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Play Review: Bus Stop

Sun, Oct 22nd, 2000
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The Commonweal Theatre has come up with another winner in Bus Stop, a 1950’s comedy by William Inge. There’s a lot more than just laughs and slapstick going on in this play though. Loneliness, the play-wright seems to be saying, is the shared common denominator of the human condition.

The setting is a roadside diner in rural Kansas where four stranded bus passengers have taken refuge during a blinding March snowstorm. The diner is owned by Grace (Carla Noack), whose employee is the bright-eyed teenage wait-ress Elma (Stela Burdt). Elma is full of questions about life and love and Grace is the lonely and seasoned cynic. "If I didn’t have this restaurant to keep me busy, I’d probably go nuts," she says matter-of-factly.

Cherie (Christine Winkler) is a smalltime nightclub singer from the Ozarks. Winkler brings a provocative blend of raw sensuousness and campy trashiness to the role, which was immortalized by Marilyn Monroe in the movie version of the play. Cherie is being kidnapped, after a fashion, by Bo, a 21-year old Montana cowboy, who fell head over heels in love when he first saw her on stage in Kansas City.

Eric Knutson’s portrayal of the earnest and corny cowboy is a pure hoot, full of all the vigor and swagger of youth. He proclaims loudly to anyone who will listen that he’s "the prize bronco-buster, ‘n steer-roper, ‘n bulldogger, anywhere ‘round. . . .And what’s more I had my picture in Life magazine!" Bo, unaware that she detests him, is intent on taking Cherie back to his ranch where he plans to marry her.

Bo’s sidekick, Virgil, is an old time ranch hand and father figure, played with an understated dignity and power by David Hennessey. Virgil consuls Bo that he had better take the Sheriff’s (Nicholas Ozment) advice and leave Cherie alone. "You cain’t force a gal to marry ya. Ya jest cain’t do it."

When Bo asks him if he ever gets lonely, Virgil’s nasal-twanged reply is heartrending in its blunt honesty, "A long time ago, I gave up romancin’ and decided that I was just going to take bein’ lonesome for granted."

Then there’s Dr. Lyman (Christopher Oden), a former college professor and lecherous alcoholic, who can’t help himself from putting the amorous moves on Elma, the teenage waitress. Oden is mesmerizing as the disheveled yet erudite, Lyman, and his emotional unraveling is a fascinating thing to watch.

At one point he tells the swooning Elma, "My dear girl, I have disapproved of my entire life...But I suppose I couldn't resist living it over again." He’s a true romantic.

The fine performances by this talented cast under the direction of Paul Barnes of Ashland, Oregon, make for a very entertaining and thought-provoking evening at the theater.

Bus Stop runs through October 22.

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