By Michael Bowen
For the current production at the Lake City Playhouse (through June 14), the setting is a shabby all-night diner. Four people get stranded there by a Kansas blizzard, and soon it becomes evident that they -- along with the locals -- are desperate to be loved. Bus Stop is the kind of play in which folks pair off and launch into retelling their life stories -- obvious exposition that doesn't make it easy on the director.
Here director Robert Moore does a good job of moving his actors about in a naturalistic way. Too often, though, the pace lags. The cast needs to pass the conversational torch from group to group more quickly: In everyday life, after all, people at the lunch counter don't wait to start talking until after those folks across the room over by the wood stove have finished saying their piece. The cast needs to cooperate because the playwright, William Inge, intended Bus Stop as an ensemble piece: "I meant it only as a composite picture of varying kinds of love."
Much of the action centers on Bo Decker, a yee-hah young buck of a cowhand who insists, by sheer force of will, on having his way with Cherie the nightclub singer and -- oh, just about everybody else within earshot, too. Inge, however, said that "the cowboy's eagerness, awkwardness and naivete in seeking love were interesting only when seen by comparison" with the other folks stranded in this closed-door psychodrama: the desperate Cherie, the dirty-old-man professor, the earthy older waitress and the naive younger one, the defeated old man.
Each cast member ranges from awkward sequences to moments of genuine humor and humanity. Adam Stellmon, for example, underplays the cowboy. Bo needs to be scary-manic in his first scene, and Stellmon simply isn't pushy enough, doesn't talk fast enough, in that sequence. In the third act, however -- this production's finest -- Stellmon is convincing as the brash youth who has learned to apologize. He learns that it's a lot easier to rope a steer than lasso a woman.
As the local sheriff with the heart of gold, John Coppernoll injects needed energy into every scene he's in. Of the souls stuck in this dump, he's the most wise and generous. Coppernoll is less convincing, however, in trying to corral Bo: In their various face-offs and scuffles, the sheriff looks like the one who's backing down.
Able Conley is miscast as the alcoholic old professor: He's too young, and he's not embittered by life enough yet (not to mention that he has the thankless job of having to act drunk all night). His scenes with the naive waitress (Post Falls High student Kasey O'Brien) sometimes strain credulity: Even a sheltered schoolgirl would notice that the English prof whose elocution she admires so much is also stinking drunk, then vomiting back in the outhouse. O'Brien occasionally overdoes exclamations of surprise, but, at this bus depot, she's the best-cast and most convincing actor.
Another Post Falls High student, Shayla Keating, makes the Marilyn Monroe part of Cherie her own: She has black hair, for one thing. More important, Keating catches the mixture of desperation and self-assertion in Cherie, who wants somebody to comfort her -- she's just not sure it's Bo who should do the comforting.
As Virgil, Bo's elderly surrogate father, Marvin Tyacke drags down the energy, but he also got the evening's biggest laugh. Asked what happened with a long-ago girlfriend, Tyacke gets comic mileage out of his response: "Nuthin.'" There were other funny moments, too. Near the end, when the cowboy finally gets the girl some kid squealed "Gross!" during the big kiss.
Kid would make a fine theater critic -- except he's too harsh on this show. (And not nearly verbose enough.) The Lake City bus provides a decent ride and keeps alive the memory of a still-worthwhile American classic.
Publication date: 06/05/03