Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 4, 2009

Bus Stop

Majestic Theater, W. Springfield
through April 5
By Bernadette Johnson

Strangers thrown together for any length of time tend to commiserate. And waiting tends to bring out both the best and the worst in people.

In the Majestic Theatre’s production of William Inge’s 1955 hit play “Bus Stop,” a bus driver and his four passengers find themselves stranded in a Kansas diner when a snowstorm leaves roads impassable. The travelers have no choice but to hunker down until morning.

Among the weary passengers are Ozarks-born Cherie (Amy Rist), a small-town nightclub singer and aspiring “chanteuse,” Bo Decker (Dan Whelton), a loud, loutish cowboy (a cross between Li’l Abner and the Beverly Hillbillies) who is determined to marry Cherie and carry her off to his ranch in Montana despite her vehement objections, Virgil Blessing (David Healey), Bo’s older pal and mentor, and Dr. Gerald Lyman (Chris O’Carroll), a pretentious, lecherous windbag whose sketchy past is rife with mistakes and melancholy.

Themes of love, longing and loneliness play themselves out as diner owner Grace (Jaime Taber) and her young, naive waitress Elma (Carolyn Averill) attempt to lessen the tedium by serving up coffee and compassion. Rounding out the cast are frisky bus driver Carl (Stuart Gamble) and brook-no-nonsense sheriff Will Masters (Jeffrey Dreisbach).

Whelton’s bullying personality takes some getting used to, but that’s Inge’s fault, not his. He’s supposed to be obnoxious, and he is. Taber manages more facial distortions than would seem necessary, but they adequately convey her discomfort and distaste for Whelton’s one-sided idea of “courtship.” And O’Carroll’s lecherous professor provokes just the right balance of disdain and sympathy as he attempts to impress, and seduce, the young Emma with a tiresome stream of Shakespearean quotes. As for Taber and Healey, though both in supporting roles, they are the most convincing characters of the lot.

Greg Trochlil’s authentic set deserves special mention, taking us back as it does to another era, and special effects are so realistic they have us actually “feeling” a cold draft every time the diner door opens. Great place to hunker down as March winds roar through.