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Bus Stop Review

Perspectives on Love

Address: 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. - Marin Art & Garden Center
Ross, CA 94957
Phone: 415-465-9555

Bus Stop — Love’s Wild Ride

Laura Peterson as Cherie, Steve Price as Sheriff Will Masters, Ariana Mahallati as Elma Duckworth, Mary Ann Rodgers as Grace Hoylard and Jeffrey Taylor as Carl the bus driver in William Inge's Bus Stop.

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos by Gregg Le Blanc

Love is a complicated emotion. Passion, loneliness and the need for companionship can all come into play, and despair becomes part of the mix when love is unrequited. Love can also take all kinds of twists and turns, and its power and unpredictability takes center stage in “Bus Stop,” the Ross Valley Players’ current production at the Barn Theatre.

The action takes place in a diner in small-town Kansas, in the middle of the night during a blizzard. The highway is blocked so a bus can’t get through and instead discharges its passengers at the roadside eatery to wait for the road to be cleared. It’s a setting that William Inge uses to full effect to to examine love and its different forms from several perspectives. He wrote the play in the 1950s, and “It’s a little bit on the subversive side for 1955,” says director Christian Haines. “If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ll be surprised,” he adds, explaining that one storyline was eliminated from the film, because it included predatory behavior that the film code at the time deemed unfit for inclusion.

The play includes three love stories: cowboy Bo Decker’s pursuit of nightclub singer Cherie (Laura Peterson and Andrew Morris, left), Dr. Lyman’s attempted seduction of the teenage waitress Elma Duckworth, and a tryst involving diner owner Grace Hoylard and the bus driver Carl. The local sheriff and a second cowboy, Virgil Blessing, acts as a father figure to Bo, observing his clumsy attempts at romance, adding wisdom and reflecting on the nature of love.

This is a strong cast, with adept direction to make the play compelling. Andrew Morris is the naïve, heavy-handed cowboy who treats Cherie, played by Laura Peterson, more as a conquest than a romantic partner. He has a lot to learn, and it’s not easy, but Morris shows his character’s evolution over the course of the play, as Bo gradually wins over the reluctant Cherie. Peterson’s Cherie is young but far more worldly than Bo, so the mismatch is obvious—at least at first. She’s a singer, but not a very good one, and Peterson does a fine job of the difficult task of singing poorly.

The second match-up is Dr. Gerald Lyman and waitress Elma Duckworth (above, Ron Dritz and Ariana Mahallati with Laura Peterson), a high school student determined to make her way to college. Ariana Mahallati, as Elma, portrays a girl who is smart and ambitious, but also inexperienced and somewhat naïve, making her a perfect target for the alcoholic Dr. Lyman, played by Ron Dritz.  Reflecting a 1950’s mindset, Grace suggests that Elma keep her intelligence to herself, and yet, that’s what drives the connection between her and Dr. Lyman, a college professor. Dritz plays Lyman as an alcoholic with poor judgment who looks perfectly respectable, demonstrating how easy it can be to get away with bad intentions.

The need for warmth, pleasure and companionship draws together Grace, played as a realistic woman with no illusions by Mary Ann Rodgers, and Jeffrey Taylor (left) as Carl, the bus driver who’s not very good at keeping secrets.

Steve Price is a solid Will Masters, who understands human nature but doesn’t have patience with bad behavior. And Aeron Macintyre show wisdom as the father-figure to Bo, and he’s also a guitar-playing cowboy with a fine voice, whose rendition of Hank Williams’ Cold, Cold Heart helps to cast light on Bo and Cherie’s situation.

 Eugene De Christopher’s set is what one would expect of a 1950s diner—plain, somewhat shabby a few simple tables and chairs, chrome-trimmed stools at the bar, and yet it serves a purpose as a gathering place, where people’s stories play out. Michael A. Berg’s costumes help definer the characters’ personalities and capture the 1950s look, complete with then-trendy saddle shoes for Elma.

 Bus Stop is a classic for its writing. “It’s beautiful language all the way through,” says Haines. And in the right hands, it delivers a poignant message about the nature of loneliness and love.

 Bus Stop plays through Sunday, March 26, at the Barn Theatre at the Marin Art & Garden Center in Ross. Tickets are available at www.rossvalleyplayers.com or by calling the Box Office at 415-456-9555.