It may be October but down at Grace’s Diner just 30 miles west of Kansas City, Missouri, March is roaring in like a lion as The Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre presents William Inge’s Bus Stop. Celebrating 50 years of exceptional, diverse, creative, bold and passionate theatre, this production was the first show performed at Spotlighters 50 years ago to the day of opening night of the current run. Directed by Fuzz Roark, this production takes you back to 1955 where everyone had a place and a purpose, things were routine and everybody knew everybody.
Set Designer Alan Zemla crafts extreme detail into the diner’s interior. The foamy robin’s egg blue of the walls blend right in with the red and white checkered table cloths, bringing the audience back to the 50’s with the familiar chotskies and tacky artwork hanging on the walls. Zemla in conjunction with Roark go to great lengths to ensure the authenticity of a working diner on the stage. A functioning griddle is heated up to serve hamburgers, fried eggs and bacon during the first half of the show. And whenever the door to the diner is opened a blast of colder air sweeps through the audience, mimicking the ferocious blizzard that is still whirling outside. The set is by far the most impressive thing about this classic production and Zemla’s designs do it justice in the round.
Director Fuzz Roark has missteps in his casting approach to the show – the largest being that a few of the male characters seem out of place given what the text says about their age. Largely the doctor and the sheriff, who are both frequently referred to as ‘old men’ are cast with much younger actors in the role with little being done to show their age. The actor playing the old salt Virgil was painted up with age lines in his makeup and his hair was silvered and grayed (I’n told it was natural). Doing a similar approach to these other male characters and perhaps dying their hair, especially the doctor – would have made for a more convincing approach as it is very hard to believe that Doctor Gerald Lyman is a dirty old world-traveled thrice married man hitting on a barely sixteen year old girl at the diner when he only looks a few years older than her.
The acting overall was a jumble of incomplete performances. Many of the characters seemed to have only one note of expression. Inge’s characters are not terribly rich or multi-dimensional but there is something to be said for giving life to flat characters. This happens most frequently with Elma Duckworth (Erin Hanratty). The character is meant to be a naïve and bashful adolescent who finds the flattery of the old Doctor extremely appealing, but Hanratty provides the audience with a rather stiff rendition of this character, doing little more than appearing on stage to deliver her lines. She does have a breakout moment, however, when she assumes the meta-role of Juliet when she and the doctor begin to recite Shakespeare; her eyes bubbling to life, emotion finding its way into her voice and physicality as well.
Doctor Lyman (Jose Teneza) becomes as dull as the dishwater his newest eye-candy is washing up in. The character has long lamenting pontifications that Teneza turns into jerky blocks of text that he often has trouble remembering. His attempt at waxing poetic doesn’t flow the way the text is written, and overall his presence on the stage feels wildly out of place.
The main cowboy, Bo Decker (James Morton) is a mixed performance. While he does a stupendous job at being bullheaded and stubborn, acting rashly and brashly – when he’s angry its one note of anger. Morton expresses his rage and frustrations by shouting loudly, to the point where it is sometimes difficult to understand what he’s saying. When he does back down and soften his persona, however, it is a drastic change and he finds reasons to make the audience empathize with his otherwise static character.
The winning performers of this show are the four that we don’t get to see or hear all very much: two of them spending half the show off-stage, and the other two being mostly silent. Grace (Carol DeLisle) has the temperament of a weathered old salt with a sweet around the edges approach to her nature. DeLisle conducts several covert flirtations with bus driver Carl (Steve Izant) giving them a quirky but adorable relationship on the stage.
Virgil (Robert Scott Hitcho) can barely get a word in edgewise – but when he does speak out against his counterpart Bo – his one liners are witty and amusing, heartfelt and truthful. Hitcho is a quiet character but gets his message across with the subtle intonations of his voice.
But the winner takes it all in the game of learning and small town happenings, and the winner is clearly Cherie (Rachel Verhaaren). With a perfected southern accent and a nervous disposition, Vaerhaaren charms the pants off the audience so it’s no wonder that Bo’s character is so hell bent on marrying her. With a dulcet voice for her singing number and a pointed attitude when she finally comes into her own, Verhaaren all but steals the show as she rides out the blizzard in Grace’s diner.
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
As a special note to our readers – this Thursday October 18, 2012 Spotlighters will be offering special discounted tickets as part of their “TEN SPOT THURSDAY” program. Tickets for Bus Stop will be $10 dollars this Thursday only – that’s half off admission! Don’t miss out on this great opportunity.