The theater department’s latest production, Bus Stop, by William Inge is a mix of good and bad: from honest moments portraying human characteristics to awkward stages that keep the audience checking their watches.
The show is set in the 1950s, just 30 miles west of Kansas City. The playwright, William Inge, found inspiration for his play at a diner in Tonganoxie.
The first feature to catch the eye is the stunning set created by J.J. James. Her attention to detail creates a living world, transporting the audience back to the ’50s. In particular, the structural beams for the roof stick out from the set literally removing space between the audience and the world of Bus Stop.
The play begins as characters enter the diner setting one at a time establishing their place in the story. A strong winter storm brings five passengers from a stranded bus into the diner, and their story unfolds over the span of four hours.
The plot follows these characters through their individual and combined journeys. Romance develops between several pairs, while others support these characters as figures of wisdom.
While each of the relationships in the production, romantic or otherwise, have a lesson to teach; the most intriguing is the father-son like relationship between characters Virgil and Bo. Virgil, played by Colton Cugno, serves as an active guide in Bo’s journey from boy to man. Cugno’s strong performance is the key as Virgil teaches Bo that we cannot always just take what we want especially in relationships: we must be gentle and humble.
This production confirms that not all actors are created equal. While some of the actors on stage are filled with life and share the depths of the characters they portray, others deliver a two-dimensional performance that leaves something to be desired by the audience.
Several actors frequently struggle to take the written words in the script and give them life, resulting in a monotone reading of disconnected words. Equally flat is the romantic relationship that exists between Grace, the owner of the diner and Carl, the bus driver. Their connection is reminiscent of middle schoolers passing notes and looks across the room.
Elma, the youngest of the characters, is played by Hailey Jones. Jones’ performance of the waitress is impressive. As she moves around the stage delivering dialogue the audience begins to see the naïve prospective through which the character sees the world; especially as she interacts with Dr. Gerald Lyman, a lewd professor several times her age.
Will, the sheriff played by Marcus Adams, provides a great support and foundation for the show. He commands the stage and is the epitome of strong yet fair justice. Many of Adams’ moments on stage save the audience as they sink into their chairs from second-hand embarrassment at lesser actors.
Kirstie Drew gives an intriguing interpretation of Cherie, a singer. Drew’s physical portrayal of the character is most impressive. Often her story is even more clear in her silent moments on stage. The audience can almost hear the thoughts in her head as she contemplates the difficult decisions before her.
In the great poetic style of Inge, the play ends the way it began. Each character is allowed their last words before exiting the stage. In the end, each audience member is sure to find pieces of themselves in one or more of the characters on stage and left to ponder their own journey. The theme of the play is best summed up in the words of the director:
Williamson said, “Everyone is fighting their own demons and their own battles and on their own particular journey. And sometimes it seems like it’s hopeless that the blizzard is going to go on forever and no one is going to get where they’re going. In spite all of that there is a threat of optimism that runs through it the entire time.”
Bus Stop will be playing in the Polsky Theatre from Friday November 16th to Sunday November 18th. Admission is free, the play runs about one hour and 45 minutes with an intermission. Shows on Friday and Saturday night will begin at 7:30 p.m. and afternoon shows on Saturday and Sunday will begin at 2:00pm.