By John Farrell
It’s an era long forgotten, an era when you took the bus and got to know the people around you, — sometimes more intimately than you cared to.
Now people, even on the local trains and buses, stare straight ahead, ear-buds connected to something in their pocket, occasionally nodding their head to the rhythm. Only old fogies and homeless folks talk anymore.
It used to be that a bus trip was an adventure, a liberation, a way to change your life and your outlook on life. Remember It Happened One Night?
Well, you can still go to the bus stop created by scenic designer Robert Young for Little Fish Theatre’s production of William Inge’s play Bus Stop. The play will be in San Pedro through Dec.13, when the bus leaves forever. Maybe those little town bus stop cafés are a thing of the past, but the one created for this play is a carefully, fully realized replica of several that this reviewer has memories of, right down to the soup cans stacked on display above the counter.
And there is more.
Inge’s play tells the story, partly comic, partly romantic, of bus passengers stranded 30 miles west of Kansas City in a snow storm. Maybe those little town bus stop cafes are a thing of the past, but the one created by scenic designer Robert Young for this play is a carefully, fully realized replica.
That’s enough to make the play interesting, but add to that the idiosyncratic seating arrangement. There are four different areas for the playgoers, with the action, led by director Mark Piatelli, taking place all over. There is singing from a stage on one side of Little Fish’s small space, a drunk sleeping right next to some spectators on the other and tables in the middle. You’ve got plenty to watch. The lighting, credited to Jenna Platcher, is very effective, too. And, the cast assembled for this production is superb.
You are convinced these are real folks, plain folks living real lives. Inge used his memories of real folks he knew for this drama and they are true to his vision in this version.
There’s Cherie (Amanda Broomell,) trying to get away from the cowboy who has almost kidnapped her, proud of her singing, which isn’t that good, but also rootless and hopeless. There is Elma Duckworth (Mara McCaffray,) the innocent young waitress who is fascinated by life and the attentions of Dr. Gerald Lyman (Rodney Rincon), who has been married three times and wouldn’t mind getting involved with Elma. Morgan West is Bo Decker, the bold young cowboy who is in love with Cherie. Cherie is a perfect physical specimen but hopelessly, helplessly immature and sometimes violent. But she hides behind that violence.
Christina Morrell is Grace Howard, who owns the café and the affections of bus-driver Carl (Brad C. Light), who comes into her life every few days for a sexual encounter, nothing more. Logan Loughmiller is Will Masters, the local sheriff who is also a minister at the local church. Doug Mattingly is Virgil Blessing, Bo’s friend and mentor, who is also a talented guitar player.
They are together on a bus to Denver, but have been stopped by a storm that has knocked out the phones and the highways. Bo’s love for Cherie is the main force of the play, but the sexual tension that builds up between Grace and Carl, and the (supposedly) innocent relations between Elma and Dr. Lyman, which might become less than innocent, are the subtext as the passengers, thrown together by circumstances, spend the night at the cafe, putting on a little show to ease the boredom, fighting and resolving Bo and Cherie’s relationship, and finally leaving with much unchanged. There is a sexual tension, but also a human touch to the moment: just one night out of many in a small town diner in middle America. Inge doesn’t make any big demands in his audience. This is a simple play, with just a little story to tell, in the hands of this extraordinary cast.
Tickets are $27 and $24 for seniors. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a 2 p.m. matinee Dec. 7 and an extra showing at 8 p.m. Dec. 11, through Dec. 13.
Venue: Little Fish Theatre
Location: 777 Centre St., San Pedro