Deep in the heart of Kansas, a quaint little diner is a frequent “Bus Stop.” But on a cold winter’s night, a storm rages, and a group of strangers get to know each other.
Things heat up as they wait for the road to open, and Clayton Community Theatre’s strong ensemble presents an interesting character study.
The set design, with vivid small-town diner details, might look familiar, and that’s on purpose. Before the show, director Sam Hack explained that the set, designed by Andrew Cary, Zac Cary and Nada Vaughn, purposely looks like the last show’s set for “Two Trains Running,” part of the August Wilson Pittsburgh Cycle. Even though they changed style, colors and décor, they wanted to connect the two American classics, which were a decade apart.
Like Wilson’s works, “Bus Stop” is steeped in Americana. Written by Oscar and Pulitzer Prize winner William Inge, who was from Independence, Kansas, the play provides insight into a collection of characters from all walks of life. The 1956 movie was a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe.
Grace Hoyland (Erin Struckhoff), who owns the diner, and helper Elma Duckworth (Lucy Sappington), prepare for customers, as local sheriff Will Masters (Jeff Lovell) told them that passengers must stay overnight because of the snowstorm. Grace is excited that the bus driver is Carl (Jeff Struckhoff).
Dr. Gerald Lyman (Joe O’Connor), a drunken con artist who has an eye for younger girls, arrives, as does a panicked Cherie (Britteny Henry), who tells the sheriff she has been taken against her will by Bo Decker (Michael Bouchard) and his buddy, Virgil Blessing (Gene Rauscher).
As the drama unfolds, we find out why the bus passengers are on their journey. O’Connor brings out humor in Dr. Lyman, and as a relationship develops with the young and innocent Elma, you sense that there is more to his story.
As the leading lady, Henry portrays the girl from the wrong side of the tracks with grit and steely determination. Rauscher nails his role as Bo’s confidante.
However, Bouchard tries very hard to give his character a strong personality, but unfortunately, it comes across as over the top and distracting, as if this was a slapstick comedy.
Overall, the ensemble brought their characters to life with commitment, but some were more believable than others. It is an entertaining show, and good company on a winter’s day.
Clayton Community Theatre, “Bus Stop,” Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 11, at 2 p.m. Washington University South Campus Theatre, 6501 Clayton Road. Tickets at brownpapertickets.com or at the box office. Website: www.placeseveryone.org, 314-721-9228.