Directed by JoAnn Montemurro
At Raven Theatre, Chicago
Terrific set and excellent performances make a visit to Grace’s diner a treat
William Inge’s 1955 drama, Bus Stop, became a 1956 film that made a star out of Marilyn Monroe. It is a romantic love story and a slice-of-life drama peopled by richly drawn characters. Raven Theatre, under tight direction by JoAnn Montemurro and on a terrific realistic set (designed by Ray Toler), has mounted a winning production of Inge’s well-know play.
Stranded in a spring snow storm on the Kansas plain, the travelers on a west bound bus make it to Grace’s diner for rest and refreshments. Their all night stay fuels new relations and redefines existing ones as the travelers seek and some find forms of love that quench their thirsts.
There is Cherie (the sexy Jen Short) who is a aspiring night club singer and adventurous sexual item. She is terrified by the crude advances from the cowboy Bo Decker (the manically effective Michael Stegall). Bo is a brash young cowboy with boorish manners that hide a naivete knowledge of sex and women. He is fixated on marrying Cherie.
Will Masters (Antoine Pierre Whitfield) is the touch yet fair local sheriff. Virgil Blessing (Mark Pracht) is an older, wiser cowboy who has become a father figure to Bo and is now his side-kick.
Dr. Gerald Lyman (Jon Steinhagen in a hilarious yet poignant turn) is the college professor who hates authority and love little girls. He drinks to douse his self-hatred.
Grace (Kristian Williams) the diner’s owner needs a man once in a while and Carl (Dean La Prarie), the bus driver fills her needs.
Lastly, Elma Duckworth (a sparkling truthful performance by Sophia Menendian) is the idealistic and naive high school girl who waitresses at the diner.
The dynamics of Inge’s well structured play allows each character to express their dreams, hopes and their loneliness as we see their desperation and yearning played out overnight marooned at the diner. Filled with gripping and fluid dialogue, Bus Stop is an engaging work filled with empathetic characters that we willingly return to the world of 1955 Kansas. The play is ultimately optimistic and hopeful.
I was particularly impressed by Antoine Pierre Whitfield’s commanding sheriff; with Jon Steinhagen’s fine performance as a funny yet deeply flawed tragic figure. Sophia Menendian exudes hope and kindness as a pure romantic while Michael Stegall was strong and manic as the love-struck cowboy. Ultimately, Bus Stop is a love story where in Cherie learns that Bo has a gently side besides his handsome sexy manner. The Raven Theatre production contains such honest performances that we empathize with the folks. Once more, Raven Theatre has a sure handle on plays that illuminate the American experience.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: October 16, 2011
At Raven Theatre, 6157N. Clark St., Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $30 with senior.student discounts, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 1 hour 50 minutes with intermission, through December 11, 2011