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Bus Stop

There's something comforting about A Noise Within. Called "California's Classical Theatre Company," the critically acclaimed company performs seasons of classic plays in repertory. In addition to productions at its Glendale location, A Noise Within is committed to taking some of its plays on the road. Presently, A Noise Within is reviving its production of William Inge's Bus Stop for two weekends prior to taking it on a statewide tour.

Set designer Thomas Buderwitz has crafted a realistic diner for this tale of a group of bus patrons stranded by a snowstorm for an evening. Had this play taken place in modern day California, rather than 1954 Kansas, there would be a Health Department "B" posted in the window. The old-fashioned and not altogether clean diner is functional - at one point its waitress cooks up some food behind the counter, and the smell wafts invitingly over the entire audience. (If A Noise Within sold ham and eggs at intermission, they could clean up.)

Bus Stop
Ben Messmer and Mark Bramhall
Inge's play focuses on the relationship between Cherie, a nightclub "chantoozy," and Bo, the cowboy who hopes to take her home to his ranch to be his wife. Cherie enters the diner in fear, trying to escape from Bo, who she claims has kidnapped her. Bo follows soon after, full of swagger and bluster, unable to wrap his brain around the idea that a woman he wants does not want him back. Abby Craden plays up the comedy in Cherie - at one point instantly interrupting a tearful display when she overhears someone make a negative comment about her. It's funny, but it sometimes makes it difficult for us to get a read on how much of Cherie's act one behavior is just an elaborate act. As her counterpart, Ben Messmer successfully captures Bo's volatility and aggression. He even demonstrates Bo's manliness by chugging an entire bottle of milk (at the performance reviewed, an audience member was impressed enough to comment, "holy shit!").

The real stars of this production are the supporting players. Mark Bramhall plays Virgil, an older cowboy who is Bo's friend and surrogate father figure. Every word he says reflects the years of life experience that Bo simply lacks; Virgil moves with the wisdom of lessons learned the hard way. William Dennis Hunt plays passenger Dr. Lyman, an older, educated man who purports to have hopped on the bus as part of a free-spirited journey. Hunt has a warm melodious voice that gives a great theatricality to Dr. Lyman - Dr. Lyman doesn't so much converse with the other characters as present his lines to them. When told the diner does not serve alcohol, Dr. Lyman's disappointed "Alas" sums up both his desire for drink and his erudition. The diner's owner, Grace, has relatively few lines, but Deborah Strang's reactions are simply tremendous. When Bo tries to grab Cherie against her will, Strang has Grace watch unblinkingly with a look of disapproval and disgust that is much more captivating than anything going on between Bo and Cherie.

The production is a solid, if not particularly earth-shattering, one. Director Sabin Epstein has a good understanding of Inge's play, clearly presenting both the characters' images of themselves, as reflected in their lines, and their true qualities beneath. Sabin keeps the action moving pretty quickly, although the pace slows at the top of the second act (of three) when the action alternates between several different one-on-one conversations. As soon as more people interact, the speed picks up again, and the production's ultimate resolution is as satisfying and moving as it possibly could be.

Bus Stop runs at A Noise Within in Glendale through February 9, 2003, prior to an engagement at the McCallum Theatre in Palm Springs. For tickets in Glendale, call (818) 240-0910 or see www.anoisewithin.org.

A Noise Within presents Bus Stop by William Inge. Directed by Sabin Epstein. Set Design by Thomas Buderwitz; Costume Design by Angela Balogh Calin; Lighting Design by Ryan Bertelson; Property Master Victoria Robinson; Wig/Hair Design by Joyce Ann Littrell; Directing Intern Sarah Bell; Stage Manager Tricia Druliner.

Cast:
Elma Duckworth - Lana Joy
Grace - Deborah Strang
Will Masters - Robert Pescovitz
Cherie - Abby Craden
Dr. Gerald Lyman - William Dennis Hunt
Carl - Richard Soto
Virgil Blessing - Mark Bramhall
Bo Decker - Ben Messmer

Photo by Craig Schwartz


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