William Inge’s Bus Stop is a comedy but it’s a quiet one, full of characters who yearn for personal connections in varying ways.
At Actors’ Summit, the play is sensitively, beautifully directed by Ric Goodwin, a recently retired professor from Ashland University who has previously acted at Actors’ Summit. Through the 100-minute show, which runs without intermission, you get the feeling that Goodwin cares deeply about each of the eight well-drawn characters that Inge has created.
Inge, who won a Pulitzer Prize for Picnic and an Oscar for Splendor in the Grass, was one of the first American dramatists to write about the quality of life in small towns in the Midwest. Bus Stop, which takes place in 1955 in a small-town Kansas restaurant, is the story of five bus passengers and three townspeople trapped overnight in a street-corner restaurant during a blizzard, waiting it out until the roads are passable.
Goodwin’s finely assembled cast stars Actors’ Summit newcomers Dean Coutris as blustering cowboy Bo Decker, and Llewie Nunez as the beautiful chanteuse Cherie, the object of his desire. Most of the cast is making their Actors’ Summit debuts, including Ashland University student Rebecca Ribley as Elma; Doug Hendel as the troubled Dr. Gerald Lyman; and Jim Fippin as bus driver Carl.
Bo has fallen for Cherie and kidnapped her to bring her back to his Montana ranch and be his wife. She is desperate to get away from him, and seeks the protection of the small-town sheriff, Will, played with an air of sagacity and fairness by Alex Nine.
Coutris and Nunez are quite believable as the cowboy chases the petite Cherie around the stage, grabbing and manhandling her as he tries to claim his prize. But as the layers peel away, Coutris slowly shows us that Bo is really a naive, overgrown man-child.
Inge interestingly has created two other would-be couples as foils to this tangling twosome: the willing coupling of restaurant owner Grace (the folksy Elizabeth Lawson) with one of the men, and the attempts at flattery and entrapment the questionable Dr. Lyman (Hendel) makes with another young lady.
Ribley is sweetness and light as Elma, a smart, innocent high-schooler who has big dreams and just wants someone to take interest in her mind.
Fippin brings more folksy humor as Carl and Bill Hoffman is wonderfully understated in his role as Virgil, Bo’s longtime protector and mentor.
So who’s the dangerous man in this show, the kidnapper or the drunk who leers at young women? Is Dr. Lyman a pervert or is he just lonely and misunderstood?
Loneliness is a heavy theme in the play but there are moments of joy, especially when most of the cast puts on performances to break up the long wait by singing, playing guitar or reciting Shakespeare. Bus Stop is a treat with all its finely nuanced characterizations, and theater lovers won’t want to miss this ride.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.