Saturday night I attended the Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s production of Bus Stop, playing now through February 7 on their stage at Marian University. The latest Indianapolis Civic Theatre offering is a timeless script by playwright William Inge, who wrote in the vein of Frank Capra’s populist style during the time of Tennessee Williams. Inge’s work offers a slice of life comedy-drama, where a handful of lovable characters collide.
The play is set in a diner somewhere outside of Kansas City during a middle of the night blizzard. Grace’s Diner is a go-to joint for bus drivers on the route and their passengers looking for warm food and company. When a bus carrying four madcap characters is stranded at Grace’s diner, love and the search for companionship is brought to light, as they interact with town folk generously (albeit temporarily) welcoming them into the fold. Grace Hoylard (Carrie Bennett Fedor) and her trusty helping hand, young Elma Duckworth (Sarah Dygard), await the arrival of Carl’s (Joe Matthew Steiner) bus. As they wait, the Sheriff Will Masters (Tobin Strader) stops in to share the news that roads are closed until further notice. The passengers of the bus will simply have to wait at the diner until the storm lets up.
When the bus arrives, Cherie (Erin Cohenour) a lounge singer, bursts through the doors hoping to hide out. It is revealed that she has been pseudo-kidnapped by two rodeo stars: Bo Decker (Brandon Alstott), to whom she is engaged, and his rough, yet gentle side kick Virgil Blessing (Parrish Williams). Meanwhile, an alcoholic professor, Dr. Gerald Lyman (Paul Hansen), shadily spikes his Lemon Soda as he chats up the naive teenage Elma. As the lives of these eight characters become entwined in the wee hours of the morning, Inge meditates on life and love in a comedy that takes some settling into.
The character’s of Inge’s Bus Stop are served a variety of diner specialties including pie, making “slice of life” the perfect description of this sweet show now on stage at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre. This Indianapolis theatre presents another stunning set from resident scenic designer Ryan Koharchik. Perfectly completed with detailed set dressings, Grace’s diner provides a warm and inviting environment, where it seems absolutely possible that the stranded characters would participate in a thrown together floor show. It captures the sweetness that only a Midwestern roadside diner has, placing it delicately on stage for all to enjoy.
Jean Engstrom, on costumes, and Debbie Williams, on hair and makeup, pair their work perfectly. Each character is immediately recognizable and distinct thanks to their artistry. Fun, yet over the top vintage clothes, hair (wigs) and makeup design transport the audience back in time instantly. Recognizing the piece for what it is (a comedy), neither designer took themselves too seriously.
The cast works well together as an ensemble, though certain performances stand above the rest. Carrie Bennett Fedor is a powerhouse comedian in the small but bold role of Grace. As the hardened owner of the diner, her attitude sets the tone of the space (even when she is not on stage). Paul Hansen and Sarah Dygard are a hilarious pair as the drunken professor and sexually inexperienced girl. Her ingenuousness beautifully sets off his ungenuine sophistication. Though neither actor is completely believable in their roles, they are at least fun to watch.
As the Sheriff Will Masters, Tobin Strader is the glue that holds the cast together. Lending a fatherly air to the ensemble, Strader is the perfect voice of reason and justice in this Indianapolis performing arts event. His talent actually strengthens the work of the male and female leads played by Erin Cohenour and Brandon Alstott. As the two lovers and leaders of plot in the play, Cohenour and Alstott are perhaps the weakest members of the cast. Bogged down by rural accents, Cohenour lacks a sense of stake, though she does an excellent job of nonverbal acting.
Alstott’s pigheaded Bo is too breathy, losing a sense of power and intimidation necessary to believe he could capture Cherie. Parrish Williams is a quiet surprise as Virgil Blessing, giving a poignant and simple performance as the loner at the end of the show. He brings the audience to his level, with the ability to convey meaning through a simple sigh or nod of his head.
Inge’s play is written to make the audience leave feeling humbled to the world and happy about it. The Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s production illuminates the play just right for its audience. The cast seems to place its finger on humanity at the close of the show, leaving you thoroughly satisfied as you walk out the door. For additional information about Bus Stop at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre, visit their official website.
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Now Through February 7, 2010
Indianapolis Civic Theatre
3200 Cold Spring Road