“We’re all in this alone,” in the immortal words of Lily Tomlin. Yet unexpected moments of connection and intimacy are still possible, as random blizzard-bound strangers discover in Theatre 40’s revival of William Inge’s “Bus Stop.”
Notwithstanding the sizable cast of characters, Inge’s 1955 romantic comedy is fundamentally about loneliness, a timeless theme that director Ann Hearn Tobolowsky illuminates with style and grace.
Secrets are spilled and destinies changed when Inge’s busload of stranded travelers seeks refuge in a roadside diner, fabulously realized by Jeff G. Rack’s period set, in all its turquoise and chrome splendor.
Hearn Tobolowsky’s staging fares particularly well with the emotional fireworks involving Cherie (Kaitlin Huwe), a jaded Kansas City nightclub singer who’s already regretting her impulsive road trip with stage-door cowboy Bo (Niko Boles) after a one-night stand. Sexy, flighty and vulnerable by turns, Huwe’s layered performance frees Cherie from Marilyn Monroe’s famous portrayal in the film version and justifies her self-styled “chanteuse” title when called upon to sing.
As Bo, the macho chauvinist who won’t take Cherie’s “no” for an answer, Boles is comically unconvincing — which is precisely the point. Bo’s bluster is an ill-fitting cover for a gangly, romantically inexperienced loner. It takes a firm intervention by the wise local sheriff (calmly assured Shawn Savage) to make Bo’s innocent and caring nature endearingly apparent to us — and, most important, to Cherie.
In the creepier role of a predatory alcoholic professor who hits on the diner’s perky teen-aged waitress (Mani Yarosh), miscast Jack Sundmacher doesn’t quite sell the required mix of dazzling cerebral wit and self-loathing. Nevertheless, playwright Inge’s inclusive optimism and generosity of spirit allows the possibility of redemption for even this reprehensible character.
“Bus Stop” doesn’t cut as deep as Inge’s classic, the Pulitzer winner “Picnic,” and its narrative construction is a bit dated and creaky, but it still impresses with its affirmation of basic human decency that seems in particularly short supply nowadays.