It takes strong men and women to love … people strong enough inside themselves to love … without humiliation.
– William Inge
Peninsula Community Theatre explores again the works of William Inge. Last year PCT performed PICNIC. Director Marvin Sylvest likens the play to a “moment in time, in which we can see many elements of life played. Bus Stop is a love story, with all the complications, hope and fears that accompany the search for love.”
William Inge was a playwright whose finest works occurred during the 1950s. Bus Stop is often hailed as perhaps his finest work. He was a neoclassicist and a follower of Anton Chekhov. Inge’s works are focused on realism. Each Bus Stop character is an archetype of a type of person Inge would have known during the 1950s. Inge’s presents stories that would have been recognizable to those who would lived during that time period and in many respects have poignancy in the present day.
Photo credit to Marvin Sylvest
Before I begin my review of Bus Stop, I would like to offer a few words on my view of criticism. When one reads or hears a critical review, should one reject or accept? For me, the work that one performs or produces is a product. You can allow it to remain in stasis and either it remains as it is, or it deteriorates. If you can develop the ability to examine the product and find ways to improve it then your art will improve. So as an artist, if you can separate yourself from the product and examine it, then a review can become more palpable. A critic though should also strive to find ways to present a review that is both encouraging and with suggestions for improvement.
Bus Stop takes place in the middle of a Midwestern blizzard, as a bus pulls up to Gracie’s roadside diner in a small town 30 miles west of Kansas City. The roads are blocked and the weary travelers are stranded overnight. As the night wears on, each character’s artifice is slowly stripped away.
Bus Stop at PCT is indeed an exposition of four forms of love. There is the innocent and romantic view of love that a young person may have. The second is the courtship and the struggle for a man and woman (of the 1950s) to find love from each other. Next, is the type of love that is knowing and older. It is the type of love that someone would have obtained after many life experiences. Finally, there is the corruption of love. It is in some respects the absence of love and it can happen when one fails to love oneself.
There were two standouts for Bus Stop. Paul Lawrence portrayed Sheriff Will Masters. His character had a strong presence that projected authority and assuredness. Lisa LeBlanc’s Grace Hoylard was a delight. Grace was a fully fleshed character who had dry sense of humor and knowingness that carried the play for each character and scene.
Naima Fowler’s Elma portrays the innocence form of love. She is surprisingly a middle school student and it is evident to me that she has great promise and potential. I would have liked to have seen more of a character arc. It would have been a type of arc that included reticent acceptance of Grace’s admonitions to the shocking revelation of incorrect choices.
Both Lauren Moylan’s Cherie and Thayer LaFleur’s Bo represent the courtship of love. Lauren Moylan does light up the stage and did project a sense of initial vulnerability but I would have liked to see a bit more sexiness in her table-top dance routine and a stronger choice that she is indeed in love with Bo later in the play.
Thayer LaFleur’s Bo did well in projecting anger in surprise over Cherie’s reluctance in accepting his marriage proposal. But I would like to have seen a better physical stance that would have allowed me to believe that he is indeed a cowboy. Also, more breathing from the diaphragm and better diction would have allowed for deeper tones.
Jonathan Manning’s Carl and Lisa LeBlanc’s Grace represent an older stage of love. Manning appeared very comfortable on stage. But I would have liked to have seen more of quiet acceptance that he is in love with Grace rather that a sense of wink wink nudge nudge of a sexual relationship. When Lisa LeBlanc looked at Carl, I could see that she loved him in both an endearing and lonely manner.
John Cauthen’s Dr Lyman is a fascinating character and represents the corruption of love. Dr Lyman is the personification of the playwright William Inge. Inge put all of his self loathing and love of art into the character. It is evident that Cauthen is a highly versatile actor with excellent diction and stage presence. But I would have liked to seen more self incrimination and I wanted my skin to crawl with his entreaties towards Elma.
Jeff Sherman’s Virgil had a sense of indifference with his character. I would have liked to see more of a fatherly tone towards Bo.
The choice of costumes by Pam Revell were a bit confusing to me. On one hand the costumes for the cowboys, Will, Grace, and Elma all appeared to be authentic for the time period. However, the traveling costume for Cherie looked like a prom dress. Also, the hair styles for the cowboys looked too long for the 1950s.
Set design by Bob Burdette was both beautiful and intricate. There was a lot of thought in the layout of each piece and backdrop for each scene. However the doors appeared flimsy and could have looked more sturdy.
Lighting by David Lee Paul and sound by Chris Grafton were very well done and properly set each scene and actor.
Direction by Marvin Sylvest with assistance by Kathleen Veer allowed for a good tempo for the play and they did well in their choice of actors. What seemed evident is that more focus could have been paid to the “beats” of the play. More repetition of small pieces (beats) could have allowed for more exploration of character rather than just running it.
Despite all of my suggestions for improvement, do I recommend Bus Stop? The answer is an unequivocal YES. You will be entertained and engaged with the play. Bus Stop is about love and morals which will allow for great discussions about the times in which we live.
Peninsula Community Theatre “Bus Stop” by William Inge through permissions granted by Dramatist Play Service, New York. Performances take place at Peninsula Community Theatre , on May 4 – May 20. Get more info, prices, and purchase tickets here or by calling 757-595-5728