Making most of layover in 'Bus Stop'

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DORSET — Following the Dorset Players' opening night production of William Inge's classic slice of Americana, "Bus Stop," I sat in the lobby waiting for the actors to come out. The buzz was undeniable.

This is why "Bus Stop" is one of those rare plays that is hard to get wrong, but oh so difficult to get right. The Players' rendition, directed by the immensely talented Paul Michael Brinker and produced by Sherry Kratzer, nailed it, right down to early March mini-blizzard outside that fit right into the plot.

The action finds us in the mid-1950s, in a mid-Kansas diner doubling as a bus stop during a winter storm. There, owner Grace Hoylard (Cheryl Gushee) and her waitress Elma Duckworth (Greta Schaub) await the last bus from Kansas City heading west. They are joined by sheriff Will Masters (Jim Young).

The bus finally arrives, and its passengers learn that the storm has closed the road ahead so everyone is stuck. Off comes driver Carl (Patrick Zilkha) with KC night club singer Cherie (Dana Haley), who is trying to evade cowboy Bo Decker (Bobby Leonard), who is with his guardian Virgil Blessing (Dan Silver). Joining them also is Shakespearian professor Dr. Gerald Lyman (Todd Hjelt).

Everyone seems to have an agenda for the evening, and when forced together in this tight bus stop, the drama unfolds.

Zilkha and Gushee played their randiness to a subtle yet smoldering tee, feeding one off the other. Their acceptance of primal needs as well as of life's circumstances were both relatable, and tantalizing to boot. Bravo to this synergy.

Young had shades of James Arness in him, and while starting slowly, quickly warmed up to the role of gentle giant and calm enforcer - very delicately yet powerfully.

It's hard to believe Schaub is just a sophomore at Long Trail School; she delighted in her book-but-no-street smarts offering all evening, and hit some very high satirical notes while on the countertop playing Juliet.

Leonard was terrific as Bo, both lovable and wince-inducing in the same breath, and Haley pouted her way into our hearts as she convinced us that Cherie desperately sought to find her place and shed a checkered background.

Silver continued his stage career renaissance, which has been ongoing for the past few years, with his poignant rendition of Virgil. He quietly stayed in the background working the dirge of a Greek chorus: a man not of many words, but speaking loudly yet gently when called upon to guide the rest of us.

Finally, Hjelt stole the show. Who wouldn't want to play Dr. Lyman exactly as he did? His comedic timing was impeccable; his drunkenness utterly convincing, and his inner torment pulling at us even as we cringed at who he was inside.

The lighting by Angie Merwin and her crew excelled. Suzi Dorgeloh and Kristin Marcoux developed fantastic period costumes helped to bring home the setting; the waitress outfits were a particular delight. Fight sequences by Hjelt were well choreographed and perfectly affected.

Set design by Drew Hill and the many hands involved in building it was nothing short of grandiose, and truly world class. A professional theater would be challenged to produce that set. Finally, stage manager Tracy Hughes had the show's logistics well-wired.

The play ran a bit over two hours, with one 15-minute intermission, and one 5-minute stretch in place.

There were a few opening night line hesitations, but nothing major; Brinker got the best from both cast and crew.

The beauty of "Bus Stop" is that Inge sets everyone up for success, and a near-equal piece of the pie. Unlike many other plays with a cast of eight, there is no one character in this one that fades off to no consequences.

While some — such as Grace and Carl — are in the diner less than others, their own stories and meaning to the play are not diminished. It really is brilliant writing, given the comic and

somber overtones.

Inge deftly shifts speech to one part of the stage and one group of actors while always keeping some form of action in the others, whether visible, or, ahem, suspected.

Brinker worked this into his players perfectly, perhaps because as a young actor, "Bus Stop" was the first show as he embarked on his own voyage of self-discovery. Clearly, Brinker has learned the play's hard lesson that life continues with its many challenges, as well as its warm message that love can find a place just about anywhere.

Theater doesn't get much better than this. Makes you wish the layover from the storm lasted just a bit longer.

"Bus Stop" runs through March 12 at The Dorset Players, Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Rd. For tickets and information call 802-867-5570 or visit dorsetplayers.org

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