note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Playwright William Inge was one of America’s classic writers who focused primarily on his beloved Midwest and its sincere, gentle-hearted folks. While some critics argue that Inge’s work is dated, several of us strongly disagree, especially when it involves his masterpiece, “Bus Stop”.
Besides introducing us to a cross-section of interesting characters, Inge depicts their loneliness and search for love. He also creates a snapshot in time of strangers traveling together, becoming stranded together, then continuing life on their merry way, with a more meaningful detour.
Boston theatergoers not only see a play about a slice of Americana at a time when commonfolk relied more on taking buses and trains to travel regionally. They’re fortunate enough to enjoy watching former American Repertory Theater-Boston headliners Karen MacDonald and Will LeBow together again, as erstwhile, middle-aged lovers, Grace, the crusty diner owner with an absentee husband, and Carl, the amorously straying, married bus driver. The duo’s chemistry is playful, caring, flirtatious and delightful.
Also, former Huntington Theatre Artistic Director Nicholas Martin, who has won multiple awards for directing show-stoppers, “She Loves Me,” “The Corn is Green,” and others during his 18 years at Huntington, captures the characters’ essence and the Heartland’s soul.
Like any group of bus travelers, the menagerie that’s stranded at 1 a.m. at a wayside, small-town diner outside of Kansas City during a raging snowstorm in March, is a colorful mixed bag. Cherie, the sexy, Las Vegas singer who left the Ozarks for an exciting career, has been hogtied and buffaloed by clueless, handsome, virile rodeo rider Bo Decker, who’s bent on marryin‘ her and takin‘ her back to his ranch in Montana. Bo is traveling with his mentor and older adviser, Virge, Bo’s surrogate parent since his parents died. Shapely Nicole Rodenburg is captivating as Cherie, the movie role that helped catapult Marilyn Monroe to mega-stardom; and Noah Bean as Bo is believably blustery, naive, and stubbornly smitten with Cherie. Seated in the audience, Bean’s parents laughed heartily at his performance. During intermission, they said his role is a huge contrast to his personality.
Stephen Lee Anderson captures the calm, demeanor of born and bred Montanan Virgil Blessing, as does Adam LeFevre as kindly, no-nonsense small-town sheriff Will Masters. As the sheriff comes to Cherie’s aid, Virge tries to talk sense into Bo.
Actor Henry Stram looks mousey as alcoholic professor, Dr. Gerald Lyman, but he’s full of surprises, spinning a scholastic, Shakespeare-spouting web over bright, teen-aged waitress, Elma Duckworth. Ronete Levenson provides a fine balance of youth, innocence, and hero worship here.
Set designer James Noone creates snow falling on the rooftop, with ice forming an opaque glaze on the diner’s large windows, while the neon sign blinks to weary travelers. Philip Rosenberg’s lighting adds atmosphere, but it’s Martin’s direction and the cast’s brilliance that warmly glows throughout Inge’s wayside bus stop.
BOX INFO: Three-act play, written by William Inge. Appearing through October 17 at the Boston University Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; select Sundays, 7 p.m.; matinees select Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Times vary. Actors forum, Oct. 13, after 2 p.m. show. Tickets are $25-$89; senior, military discounts, $5 off; subscriber and BU Community discounts, $10; tickets for patrons 35 and younger, also back row of balcony tickets,$25; student rush tickets, $15. Call 617-266-0800 or visit huntingtontheatre.org.