Total Theater: Bus Stop “came to vibrant life”

Total Rating: ****

The search for love lies at the heart of Bus Stop, William Inge’s 1955 play which has been revived at Theatre 40 with Nico Boles and Kaitlin Huwe taking on the lead roles first performed by Albert Salmi and Kim Stanley. (Don Murray and Marilyn Monroe starred in the 1956 movie).

The play may be 63 years old and a bit creaky around the edges, but it still came to vibrant life at Theater 40 thanks to the splendid acting of the 8-person cast and to Ann Hearn Tobolowsky’s able direction. Theater 40 also did not stint on production values, beginning with Jeff G. Rack’s Broadway-quality set, a funky Mid-West café replete with Formica tables and chairs, a period jukebox and cigarette machine, and encompassing Michele Young’s authentic costumes.

The play, a kind of poor man’s “The Cherry Orchard,” centers on Bo (Boles) and Cherie (Huwe), who, along with the other six characters, are trapped in the café when a blizzard hits the small town at one a.m., just after the bus from Kansas City makes its usual stop there. With the snow pelting down and blotting out visibility, everyone must wait out the storm in Grace’s café, whose elderly, acid-tongued owner (Michele Schultz) takes advantage of the enforced respite to get it on with Carl, the bus-driver (David Datz), in her upstairs apartment. The two of them are the only ones who know what to do about sex.

The others, especially Bo and Cherie, go back and forth verbally about it, trying to decide whether they should give themselves to another person. Cherie, in particular, can’t sort out her feelings. A blonde ditz who thinks of herself as an artist—a “chanteusy”—she was singing in a Kansas City dive when cowboy Bo spotted her and fell immediately in love with her. So besotted was he that he abducted her and forced her on the bus that would take them to Montana, where he intends to marry her and make a rancher out of her. Braggart and man-child that he is, Bo can’t imagine why she objects to the way he’s treating her: “I told her that I love her, didn’t I?” he whines to his elderly sidekick Virgil (Gary Ballard), a rodeo wrangler. “Why won’t she believe me?”

Bo is so aggressive and bullying that Cherie must turn to the local sheriff (Shawn Savage) for help. The confrontation between the two Alpha males leads to a fist-fight, which results in Bo getting his butt whipped…and learning a little humility. This enables Cherie to see his good side and come to the realization that he truly does love her.

Another love game unfolds while Bo and Cherie are banging heads, this one between Dr. Lyman (Jack Sundmacher) and Elma (Mani Yarosh). He’s a poetry-spouting professor who owes his drunken misery and perversity (a liking for young girls) to his inability to subordinate himself to love.

As for Elma, a high-school student and part-time waitress, she is naïve, innocent and a believer in love. The conflict between them is resolved in a sentimental way which repeats Inge’s handling of the Bo/Cherie conflict: good triumphs over evil once the latter is revealed and explained.

Because Bus Stop is more comedy than drama—there are lots of wisecracks and songs to brighten things up—the ending must be happy, of course. Inge, though, is such an accomplished and skilled playwright that I left the theatre feeling good about the play and everyone in it.