Bus Stop

By William Inge

bus stop by william Inge

Directed by Lia Mortensen and Ryan Martin

At The Den Theatre, Chicago

Terrific first work by a new theatre well worth seeing.

There is a new venue in Chicago at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., on the second floor – The Den. It is a spacious venue capable of mounting up to 100+ seat theatre with a large stage and a spacious lobby.  Their first show is an impressive production of William Inge’s Bus Stop that utilizes Caleb McAndrew’s terrific realistic set that depicts a roadside diner in rural Kansas circa 1954.

bus stop by william Inge

William Inge, a contemporary, friend and rival of Tennessee Williams, gave us a realistic look at the Midwest heartland with plays such as Come Back, Little Sheba and Picnic each set in 1950’s. Inge’s talent lies in his ability to create well-rounded small town common folks in realistic settings.

It’s March and a late season snowstorm strands  a busload of travelers at Grace’s diner. We meet the young waitress, Elma (Elise Walter) a  naive and idealistic high school student and the proprietor Grace (Liz Zweifler) as they prepare for the next bus load of travelers. Will Masters (Ed Smaron), the local sheriff arrives for his nightly coffee and announces that the roads will soon be closed due to the blizzard.

The bus contains a nightclub performer, Cherie (Arianne Ellison), who is desperately afraid of the cowboy who has strong-armed her onto the bus from Kansas City toward his Montana ranch where he intends to marry her. Bo, (Brian Kavanaugh) who goes from a macho bully to apologizing gentlemen.   The bus driver Carl (Karl Pothoff) pines for Grace and they connect when she goes upstairs to get rid of a headache and Carl takes a walk in the snow.

bus stop by william Inge

We see how the college professor, Dr. Lyman (Ron Wells), the Shakespeare-quoting snob deftly attempts to seduce the young waitress Elma, whose idealism and age makes her vulnerable to his sophisticated charm. Virgil (Will Kinnear) is a mentor/buddy to Bo and is the typical stoic cowboy complete with a worn ten-gallon hat. He could have a hidden crush on Bo?

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 1950 Kansas.  The play is ultimately optimistic and hopeful. The ensemble totally understood and engaged their characters completely. The acting was impressive.

I was especially enjoyed with the performances from Brian Kavanaugh, Ed  Smaron and Arianne Ellison.  Bus Stop is a terrific first production from The Den Theatre Company. Welcome to the Chicago theatre community!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Bus Stop runs Dec. 3 – Jan. 22, Thursdays-Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 3pm. NO SHOWS Dec. 23-26, 31, and Jan. 1. The Den in located at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park, accessible by CTA Blue Line and bus routes. Tickets are $20 with reservations and $25 at the door. For general information, reservations, and group rates, or to schedule ticket giveaways or press interviews, contact Ryan Martin at ryanmartin79@hotmail.com; cell 773-398-7028.