Olney Theatre Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington has opened its 2010 season with a straightforward production of William Inge's Bus Stop, a play that is prescient in a way no one could have foreseen: the action brings together a group of people trapped in a diner by a snowstorm similar to the two that shut down the area in February. Director Austin Pendleton has gathered a fine ensemble of actors, and the result is entertaining if not especially exciting.
People who recognize the title will probably associate it with Marilyn Monroe, who appeared in the 1956 film version as Cherie, the Kansas City "chanteuse" kidnapped by a lovelorn cowboy who wants to marry her, whether she likes it or not. At Olney, Jean Lichty presents the rolesweet, a little shopworn, and clearly not a talented singeropposite Boyd Harris, who plays Bo as an excitable, innocent, and very young man. She's clearly older than he is, in age as well as experience, but he doesn't seem to mind.
The rest of the cast is well matched and each performer gets an opportunity to shine, especially through his or her interaction with the others. The gawky teenage waitress (Judith Ingber) finds a kindred spirit, she thinks, in an aging intellectual with a taste for alcohol (James Slaughter); the self-possessed diner owner (Jane Summerhays) and the likable bus driver (Harry A. Winter) demonstrate a gentle, understated chemistry; the sheriff (Timmy Ray James) is easygoing but tough when he needs to be; and Bo's lifelong friend Virgil (James Judy) hints at hidden depths he isn't about to reveal.
The cast also has the advantage of working with Stephen Dobay's methodically detailed set: the menu board looks handwritten, some of the chairs are mismatched, and the pay phone is the heavy black style authentic to the period. Lichty gets the best of Kathleen Geldard's costume designs, showing how Cherie is trying to dress the way she thinks a showgirl should look.
Olney Theatre Center