“Bus Stop” Proves To Be An Emotional Experience

busttop.jpg By Brent Fox and Kate Spalla — 09/24/10
The Huntington Theater Company’s production of “Bus Stop” at its Boston University Theater delves into the cliché scenario of what could happen when strangers are stranded together in an undesirable situation and experience a night of emotional outpour.
The play is set inside a diner in small-town Kansas during the 1950s. Karen MacDonald plays the diner’s proprietor Grace while Elma Dukworth is her 18-year-old waitress. They open the performance with a conversation about loneliness which is the play’s overriding theme.
Then Sheriff Will Masters (Adam LaFevre) walks into the restaurant, announcing the roads are blocked, and he has brought travelers who are on their way west. Cherie, the singer extraordinaire, Doctor Lyman, the drunk professor, and Carl, the bus driver, enter first. As they get acquainted, Carl steps out and we meet the two cowboys from Montana who are Carl the bus driver, and Bo, the rodeo champ.
The last character we meet is Virgil, whose soft-spoken demeanor reveals little about him until the end of the play.
By the end of the first act, we have only begun to meet the characters on a surface level. The second act digs deeper into personal relationships with more intimate one-on-one conversations.
The stage direction is notable. In the beginning a sense of community is alluded to but gradually characters grow closer and conversations become more personal.
There are no scene changes, so the actors have the freedom to interact in a static environment. The set itself is elaborate, artistically detailed and textured with banks of snow behind frosted windows. Faux snowflakes fall from the top of the stage, giving subtle movement to still and pointed emotional scenes.
Comedic relief comes from Doctor Gerald Lyman whose sarcastic one-liners and poetic verse about an important insight often rise from the back of the stage to the front.
Early in the play Lyman secretly spikes his drink but once the Sheriff leaves he takes several more swigs that lead to a drunken rendition of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
His Juliet who is Elma performs with great zeal as a true teenage dramatist despite her costar’s wild outbursts. This scene is a real hoot and is where the play picks up its pace.
Following this routine, Virgil begins to impart wisdom to Bo, whose troubles with Cherie escalate. The two have a rocky relationship at best, but their issues reveal more about Virgil’s character, with whom the audience seemed to sympathizes.
Although most of the characters are strangers at the beginning of the night, the interaction between them says otherwise.
Foil characters like Bo and Virgil come together and bridge generational gaps to reveal themes of innocence, naïveté, avoidance of problems, and acceptance.
Although these themes pertain to mature marital issues and the humor appeals to an older audience, the production itself does justice to a well-written play.
“Bus Stop” is the first presentation of the 2010-2011 season at the Huntington Theater and shows run through October 17th.

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