All too often, when someone describes a play or film as offering a “slice-of-life,’ it’s a euphemism for a story that is starkly tinged with bitter reality. Not so with William Inge’s “Bus Stop,” which covers a five-hour period in the lives of eight people stuck in a diner when the highway is closed due to a snow storm.
Each of the characters thrown together in Grace’s diner has a rich backstory. Each has their foibles. Some have a shady history. But everyone finds a moment of redemption, and that elevates this finely crafted play to its own category of real-life drama. The laughs, which are many, are not unkind. The brutality, such as it is, is naive rather than cruel. The nascent evil that does percolate along with the coffee cools off with the dawn. And at all times, the dialog rings as clear and true as a train whistle on a cold winter night. Or perhaps, with the urgent honk of a Greyhound ready to get back on its western-bound route.
This briskly paced production of “Bus Stop” is offered courtesy of The Dio – the professional dinner theatre company in Pinckney – and directed by Artistic Director and Owner, Steve DeBruyne. Due to unforeseen circumstances, DeBruyne also appears in the cast, stepping in at the last minute to fill the role of Dr. Gerald Lyman. It all seems to have worked out for the best, as this cast has a chemistry that makes the ensemble production click.
The characters we encounter at the Bus Stop include:
Grace Hoylard (Amy Morrisey) – Owner of the diner, she describes herself as a “grass widow” – a woman whose husband has simply walked off. She is an attractive, good-hearted woman who is protective of her young helper but honest about her own needs, strengths and weaknesses.
Elma Duckworth (Jacklynn Cherry) – Grace’s waitress, she is the straight-A’s high school girl who is impressionable, spunky and sweetly naive.
Will Masters (Andrew Gorney) – He epitomizes everyone’s idea of “a good man.” As the local sheriff, he’s not afraid to step in and set things right. But as a deacon of his church, he brings a refreshing sense of common charity and old-fashioned decency to the role of law man. Forced to step in between Cherie and Bo, he is wise enough to look out for the interests of both young people.
Cherie (Elizabeth Jaffe) – She is a nightclub singer who has been snatched up by Bo, a headstrong young cowboy who plans to marry her with or without her consent. She is lovely, and warm in her own way. But we quickly see that she comes from a rough background with a streetwise education that began when she was pulled from school in the 8th Grade to care for her siblings and home in the Kansas Ozarks.
Bo Decker (Peter Crist) – This cock-sure young cowboy is so full of himself that there is simply no room to consider anyone else. It doesn’t occur to him that he has essentially committed the felony of forcing a woman to cross state lines against her will. At 21-years-old, he is as naive about love as Elma. He believes Cherie is a “good girl” who naturally wants to get married as much as he does and would love sharing his lonely Montana ranch.
Virgil Blessing (Stephen Dean) – Bo’s traveling companion, Virgil is the cowboy who ended up raising Bo when he was orphaned at the age of 10. A life-long bachelor married to the bunkhouse, he is wise in his own way. He helps the audience – and the rest of the company – see a side of Bo that is more tender than the strut and swagger Bo exudes.
Dr. Gerald Lyman (Steve DeBruyne) – He is the fish-out-of-water in this setting, an eastern college professor and Doctor of Philosophy who walks in reciting Shakespeare and leering at little Elma. He carries his demons in a pocket flask, trying to outrun a checkered past that is never far behind.
Carl (Jon King) – As a bus driver who has been on this route for heaven knows how long, Carl happily discovers that the snow storm gives him a chance to get to know Grace a bit better. Quite a bit. The attraction is mutual and their dalliance plays off stage while various versions of Romeo and Juliet are being enacted on stage.
In addition to Steve DeBruyne and Matthew Tomich (who doubles as Stage Manager) the production crew includes Rachel Polk (Assistant Director), Norma Polk (Costume Design), Eileen Obradovich (Props), and Thalia Schramm (Hair and Makeup).
This thoroughly enjoyable production of “Bus Stop” runs at The Dio Fridays through Sundays until March 1, 2015. There will also be a special weekday matinee on Thursday, February 26. All tickets include The Dio’s dinner buffet, a non-alcoholic beverage, dessert, and the show. The price for adults is $41, $37 for students and those over 60, and $35 for children under 13. Tickets for all performances may be purchased by visiting the Dio’s website or by calling the box office at (517) 672-6009.
Plan to arrive between 6:30 and 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and between 12:30 and 1 p.m. for the Sunday matinee. The menu features Chef Jerod’s signature fried, boneless chicken along with fresh breadsticks, house salad, fresh fruit salad, buttered mixed vegetables, and shepherd’s pie topped with fluffy whipped potatoes.
The Dio is located at 177 E. Main St., in Pinckney.