A preeminent playwright of the American theatre canon, William Inge produced some of our most enduring dramas. Picnic, Come Back Little Sheba, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and of course, Bus Stop. His characters are not especially noble or immoral, usually ordinary (if often disillusioned) folks. Grace’s Diner is the layover for bus passengers, who, for one reason or another, need to wait before moving on. A blizzard has forced Cherie (a young lounge singer) Bo and Virgil, a couple of cowboys, and Dr. Lyman, an erudite, alcoholic English professor to kill some time. There is also Carl the bus driver, Will the sheriff, and Elma, the bright high school student, who helps Grace at the diner. In one way or another (with the possible exception of Will) they are all broken. Cherie’s romantic experience exceeds her life experience, Grace needs lovemaking but isn’t ready to live with a man, Bo wants a wife but has no charm, and so on. One by one, we learn the details of each one’s story, as they pass the time till the road clears.
My buddy Michael pointed out that, underneath it all, Bus Stop is really about sex (or the lack thereof) and he’s probably onto something. It might be closer to say that each is trying to deal with their own, personal challenges. And how that works out (or doesn’t) in the bedroom. You could also apply that theme to Inge’s other plays, including his screenplay, Splendor in the Grass. There is a tenderness in how the characters in Bus Stop, stuck with each other’s company, are summarily revealed, but never treated judgmentally. Bo may be obnoxious and full of himself, but nobody says anything hurtful or unkind to him. Inge is careful to show each one’s strengths and weaknesses, their transgressions and humanity.
Rover’s production of Bus Stop is light-hearted and poignant. It’s very clear all the actors are dedicated and giving 100%. One of the hazards of staging a familiar classic, is the possibility of missing subtext and nuance. Often plays that seem plainspoken and straightforward on the surface, have much more happening by way of subtext. Like the best playwrights Inge doesn’t tell us what to think, he just lays it out there and let’s us reach our own conclusions. The more we engage, the deeper we might go. Director Matt Stepan brings a gentleness and warmth to this production.
Rover Dramawerks presents Bus Stop, playing September 14th-October 7th, 2017. 221 West Parker Road, Suite 580, Plano, Texas 75023. 972-849-0358.