by Shirley Lorraine
Bus Stop storms into Elite for a spell
A classic dramatic play, Bus Stop by William Inge, is now on stage at the Elite Theater in Oxnard. Born in Kansas, Inge was considered a quintessential midwestern writer who hit his stride in the mid-1950s. He wrote about life in small towns and the commonality of people as they are forced together under difficult circumstances. Bus Stop is said to be the play that put Inge into the public eye.
The cast of Bus Stop, under the direction of Brian Robert Harris, brings the audience into Grace’s Diner west of Kansas City when a cross-country bus is stranded overnight due to blizzard conditions. Headed for destinations out of state, the riders are a disparate group all with their own reasons to be on the move. As the night wears on, the characters learn much about each other and about themselves.
The diner is run by Grace (Aileen-Marie Scott), an easy going “been there” woman filled with an understanding of how things are and how to cope as best she can. Her high-school age helper, Elma Duckworth (Shayde Bridges), displays youthful trust and naivete that almost land her in trouble. The local sheriff, Will Masters (Michael Perlmutter), keeps order as needed in the small town. His soft, down-home friendly demeanor carries a tinge of the sharp edge of authority.
The bus is this night manned by Carl (Todd Tickner), a route driver who makes Grace’s a regular stop. Riders trapped in the unbidden stopover are Cherie (Hayley Georgeanne Cariker), a young chanteuse lured from her job in a nightclub by Bo Decker (Michael Wayne Beck), a petulant young cowboy fresh from the rodeo who has vowed to wed Cherie despite her protests. His low-key friend Virgil (Bill Walthall) tries to keep Bo’s volatile temper in check as Cherie waves off his advances. Scott Blanchard plays Dr. Gerald Lyman, an educator with a thirst for drink to cover his lack of self-confidence.
As the night wears on, so do tempers, patience and compassion. Altercations occur, angry words pour forth and fatigue nips at everyone. All the characters are united, however, in their need to be respected. This strong theme is challenged severely as some discover they need to respect themselves first and look below the surface for reasons to respect others.
Performances are strong throughout. The Elite does not have the luxury of providing microphones for their actors, and I found that often the realistic sound of the blizzard outdoors overshadowed the dialogue, especially in the opening scenes. Perhaps a slight adjustment of blizzard tempered, and voices raised would help equalize the volume for everyone’s benefit.
There are some personal moments of beauty as well. Bill Walthall plays the guitar with quiet passion. Hayley Georgeanne Cariker takes the stage by storm with her vocal rendition of “Black Magic” and the loving looks between Grace and Carl (Scott and Tickner are married in “real” life) offer an extra dollop of sweetness to the story.
Bus Stop continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through November 18. Reservations are recommended. www.elitetheatre.org or 805-483-5118. Adults are $20, Seniors and Students $17. Elite Theatre is located at 2731 S. Victoria Ave in Channel Islands.