“Bus Stop” Breezy not Cheesy, Drama Peppered with Humor
The Jewel Box Theatre is nearing sixty years of quality community theatre. “Bus Stop” by William Inge is just a little older. Inge, a significant and award winning playwright created the drama with memories of his own roots on the plains. The howling winds blowing across the prairies in Kansas and Oklahoma can suddenly produce dangerous storms. An early March snowstorm has closed the roads in a small town just 25 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri. The bus pulls into Grace’s Diner but cannot continue on as the roads have been closed. The storm has dumped buckets of snow over that layer of black ice making travel too treacherous to risk.
Grace is a flirtatious ‘grass widow’ with a heart of gold. Elma is her waitress, an intelligent young lady, still innocent and naïve. Equally naïve but certainly no innocent is Cherie, the first passenger off the bus. She asks for help as she has been abducted by Bo, an enthusiastically amorous cowboy. He and his top hand are still asleep on the bus. Carl, the bus driver is not unhappy to hear from Sheriff Will Masters that he will be detained as he plans to take advantage of the opportunity to spend a little quality time with Grace. Cherie appeals to Sheriff Masters, an upright brave man tempering his authority with understanding. Another passenger is Dr. Gerald Lyman, a professor of philosophy who finds much to philosophize about in the eyes of a young girl and an old bottle of whiskey.
All too soon for Cherie, her brash young cowboy, Bo, alongside mentor and top hand Virgil awake and come into the diner. Bo is far more naïve and innocent than even Elma and he seasons his wooing with a great deal of salt and no sugar. Bo and Virgil left Bo’s ranch in Montana to compete in the Arizona rodeo where Bo became entranced with Cherie singing ‘That Old Black Magic’ in a very skimpy outfit and with a definite flavor of the Ozarks. After the song is finished Bo grabs and kisses Cherie vigorously and, because she is not opposed to affection he assumes that they’re engaged. This leads to a significant misunderstanding as Bo is convinced she is his girl and won’t accept any ideas to the contrary.
These eight miss-matched people are stuck together for the duration, a situation ripe with tragedy, but a tragedy of a simpler time. Terry Veal directs “Bus Stop” allowing the humor to give meat to the story, but understanding the main course is tragic. The production has a familiarity and charm that is almost enhanced by the technically difficult sound of wind whistling through an open door. The set, typical of any ‘greasy spoon’ of the era is easy and sensible on the eyes creating the illusion of a larger space. Veal’s cast includes a combination of seasoned community theatre actors and newcomers.
Claudia Fain plays Cherie with a nod to the movie version of “Bus Stop” starring Marilyn Monroe. Luscious pouty lips and come-hither eyes have a slightly tart ambiance and artless grace bringing realism to the improbable Cherie. Craig Musser is Bo, so sheltered and socially inept he is almost unable to function or speak palatably. Musser makes the role just believable enough to witness, bringing awkward discomfort along with the humor. Together the two are surely destined for a tragic end.
Deborah Franklin makes Grace slightly scrumptious if a little over-ripe as she allows Carl to remember her youth. She maintains her heart of gold and maternal instinct as she watches out for her young but competent waitress. Alix Golden is Elma Duckworth, innocence and intelligence mixed with a taste for adventure and romance. Although plucky, she is not yet ready to be plucked.
Rob May is Dr. Lyman, a man whose appetite for sweet young things and fermented fare has ruined his own life and his sloshy seduction attempt shows no self-control in the character contrasting with very disciplined control in the actor. Larry Harris is Will Masters, a sheriff upholding the law with wisdom savoring honest respect for those he serves. Craig Rauch is Carl, the bus driver, easy going yet intent on his objective of warmth and comfort and grace. It’s interesting that he is able to romance Grace with success but it is for the sheriff that Grace will remember to order the cheese.
Chris Crane is Virgil Blessing, the top hand who stayed on and raised Bo after his parents’ untimely death. Clearly Virgil wasn’t able to teach Bo all that is needed in life, but his efforts are well-intentioned and well done. It is rare to find his sort of wisdom; it is a performance with just enough salt in the tears.
Inge tempted his audience with a dash or two of comic relief, Veal tempts a new audience with the savory truth; fleet are the feet of youth and an aroma of grief along with laughter wafts through every diner along a forgotten highway.
“Bus Stop” plays at the Jewel Box Theatre at 3700 N. Walker in Oklahoma City. Curtain is at 8:00 every Friday and Saturday evening or 2:30 Sunday afternoons through March 26, 2017. Visit www.jewelboxtheatre.org for information or dial 405-521-1786 for tickets. “Bus Stop” is too tantalizing a show to miss.