February 11, 2005
Is William Inge's 1955 "Bus Stop" still worth the fare? On the evidence of a passable new revival at Fremont Centre Theatre, the answer would be yes and no. Some of Inge's dialogue retains a fine, laconic American rhythm, but a good bit of this single-set romantic comedy is almost cartoonishly corny.
That bit would be the central relationship between Bo (Lancer Dean Shull), a hotheaded cowboy who's escorting nightclub singer Cherie (Shannon Vaughan Shull), over her objections, to his Montana ranch to be his wife. When their bus is snowbound near a small Kansas diner, they bring their childish struggles inside. Also on board is a classics-quoting, flask-swilling ex-professor in tweeds (Tom Moses) and a driver (Wade Freier) who pays a booty call on the diner's proprietress (Sarah Zinsser). Playing breathless witness to all this sexual drama is teen waitress Elma (Julie Mann), who barely notices that she is the object of inappropriate attentions.
The best thing about director Matthew Solari's faithful, plodding production, played on Brad Reyes' oatmeal-gray set, is that wide-eyed Elma emerges as the play's center. This isn't just because Mann flawlessly registers Elma's curious wonderment—watch her face when Cherie refers offhandedly to "sex and lovin' " —but because a teen's-eye view actually makes some sense of the material's more hokey, idealized elements. Elma still believes, and almost convinces us, that love happens at first sight, that opposites attract and that the crusty town sheriff (Bill Steele) knows best.
"Bus Stop," Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave., South Pasadena. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 27. $20. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 2 hours.