AISLE SAY San Francisco


By William Inge
Directed by Michael Butler
Presented by Marin Theatre Company
Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley, CA / Phone (415) 388-5208

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Marin Theatre Company is celebrating the 50-year anniversary of William Inge's "Bus Stop" with a strong production directed by Michael Butler. Even though the format -- a group of relative strangers stranded for a while -- is hardly new and even though some of the dialogue seems cliched and old-fashioned, the play retains freshness because of its humanity.

The setting is a cafe in a small Kansas town. It's about 1 a.m. in early March after a snowstorm has made it impossible for a cross-country bus to continue for a few hours, stranding its driver and four passengers. The central conflict involves Cheri (Kathleen Dobbs), a young nightclub singer from the Ozarks who has captivated a brash, 21-year-old cowboy, Bo (Craig W. Marker). However, Bo has no idea how to court a woman. He just assumes that because they were "familiar," they're going to get married and move to his ranch in Montana. She feels as if he's trying to kidnap her.

In the meantime, an alcoholic former English professor, Dr. Lyman (Howard Swain), takes a shine to Elma (Lindsay Benner), the sweet, naive, bookish high school student who's a waitress at the cafe. The cafe's amiable owner, Grace (Cathleen Riddley), has a soft spot for the bus driver, Carl (Rhonnie Washington). Completing the cast of characters are Virgil (J.D. Nelson), Bo's wise buddy and mentor; and Will (Will Marchetti), the kindly but firm sheriff.

Over the course of the night, the three young people gain some wisdom, insight and, in Bo's case, humility, thanks in part to the mature, commonsensical Virgil, Will and Grace. Even Dr. Lyman seems more willing to face up to his inner self rather than masking his pain with alcohol.

Director Butler paces the action well, allowing each set of interactions to proceed naturally, while the actors take their characters on their emotional journeys. Richard Olmsted's uncluttered set, complemented by his lighting design, also features a large window where swirling snow can be seen. The period costumes are by Laura Hazlett, the sound and original compositions by Norman Kern.

"Bus Stop" may not be among the greatest American plays, but it's a good place to spend a couple of entertaining hours.

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