Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Marin Theatre Presents the 50th Anniversary of William Inge's Bus Stop
During the same time period that Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller wrote plays that set off explosions, Inge found the remarkable in the ordinary and provided authentic reflections on Midwestern life. Bust Stop's bus passengers are not your typical Americans as shown in the family television series. They include boisterous cowboy Bo (Craig W. Marker), night club singer Cheri (Kathleen Dobbs), hearty truckdriver Virgil (J.D. Nelson) and an alcoholic professor of Philosophy Dr. Lyman (Howard Swain), who quotes Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. We also find Grace (Cathleen Riddley), the lonely owner of the café who just likes the occasional man for sex, and bus driver Carl (Rhonnie Washington), who is her occasional man for the night; the very young and naïve waitress Elma (Lindsey Benner); and a very stern Sheriff named Will (Will Marchetti). The crux of the play is Bo's youthful optimism in pursuing the self-described "chanteuse" cross-country. The headstrong cowboy wants to marry Cheri and take her to his ranch in Montana. The used and abused Cheri is not thrilled with the idea of living on a ranch away from civilization.
I saw the original production of Bus Stop on Broadway at the Music Box during the spring of 1955 with the sterling cast of Kim Stanley as Cherie, Albert Salmi as Bo and Anthony Ross as Dr. Lyman. It was the first time I saw Elaine Stritch, who received her first Tony nomination as Grace. Brooks Atkinson in the New York Times said, "Having written a wonderful play two years ago (Picnic), William Inge has now written a better one," and I readily agree. The play transferred to the Winter Garden and ran 478 performances, a critical and commercial success. Joshua Logan directed Marilyn Monroe, who deserved an Academy Award as Cherie, with Don Murray playing the cowboy Bo in the Fox film. HBO produced the play for the small screen in 1982 with Margot Kidder as the cabaret singer and Tim Matheson playing the cowboy. Robert Albert also tried a television series in the '80s minus Cherie and Bo, moving the bus stop to a small town in Colorado. It ran only one season. New York saw a brief revival of the romantic drama in February, 1996 at Circle In the Square with Mary Louise Parker and Billy Crudup in the leads. Many regional and community theatre productions have produced the play over the years.
Director Michael Butler and his cast make the little roadside diner come alive with these characters who are forced to spend the night due to a heavy snow storm. Craig W. Marker (Continental Divide at Berkeley Rep and the UK tour, Shakespeare in Hollywood at TheatreWorks and The Shape of Things at the Aurora) looks and acts like an unruly, just-off-the-farm cowboy who believes he can have anything he wants, including the love of the singer. He is powerful in the role. Kathleen Dobbs (Uncle Vanya at Cinnabar) takes a while to get into her character as she tries to be a Marilyn Monroe type. She uses an authentic Ozark accent but her projection is a little weak.
Howard Swain (veteran Bay actor in many productions) as the bitter Dr. Gerald Lyman makes his character sympathetic even though he has been run out of the state of Missouri because of sexual peccadilloes with minor girls. His enormous superciliousness with the teenaged waitress is somewhat sensitive. Catherine Riddley (Beggar's Holiday at Marin and Crumbs from the Table of Joy at Lorraine Hansberry) gives a good performance as the owner of the café with her street-smart view of the world. Lindsey Benner (Henry IV at Cal Shakes) seems a mite too old to be playing a teenager. However, she gives a creditable performance as a naïve young girl who does not realize that the older professor is sexually attracted to her.
Will Marchetti (SFBAT 2004 winner for best actor in All My Sons) gives a great performance as the stern sheriff who manages to get some humor into his character. J.D. Nelson (Henry IV parts 1 & 2 at SF Shakespeare Festival and lead singer for the Hayriders Band in Buddy) gives a heartfelt performance as Virgil, Bo's truck driving buddy. His last line in the play is very heartrendering since he is "left out in the cold" with no happy ending. Rhonnie Washington (Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare Santa Cruz) is very good in his small role of bus driver Carl.
Richard Olmsted's set design of a run down '50s diner is very good. The illusion of sight and sound by Norman Kern gives you the feeling of a snow storm on the plains of Kansas. Michael Butler's direction is right on the mark with this drama.
Bus Stop runs through April 17 at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets please contact 415-388-5208 or online at www.marintheatre.org. Their next attraction is the west coast premiere of Michael McKeever's Charlie Cox Runs with Scissors, opening on May 19 and running though June 19th.