'Bus Stop' at Las Vegas Little Theatre
★★★½☆ - Satisfying
William Inge’s 1955 “Bus Stop’ is, arguably, his most enduring play. It’s a dark comedy, looking at the foibles of love, and how inept men can be in pursuing it. Just shy of 70 years after the Broadway opening it takes on new meaning.
That’s what makes it relevant. But it’s also what makes producing it difficult. Now playing on the mainstage at Las Vegas Little Theatre, under the direction of Sean Critchfield, the solid connection from yesteryear to today’s bumbling to find solid ground struggles a bit in the performances of the two focus characters.
Bo Decker (Tommy Fullerton), is a blustery rodeo rider manhandling his way into the heart of Cherie (Alison Aughtman), a dance hall singer. He wins her over through the course of the action with the help of his lifelong friend and mentor Virgil Blessing (Jim Abernethy).
There’s very little actual interaction between Bo and Cherie. It’s the side glances and body language while eavesdropping on the conversations around them that should speak their truth. Those exchanges contain the impetus for them, become meat of the play. Shoring up pacing in shifting from one conversation to another would spice the whole and help meld it all.
Initially, Cherie is afraid of Bo, but Aughtman doesn’t skitter away when he approaches; she doesn’t keep a wary eye. We don’t see how she comes to soften and understand him because she doesn’t react to the conversations Bo has with Virgil. At one point, she stands in the frigid cold of an open door in a sleeveless dress and doesn’t react to it. For his part, Fullerton doesn’t sneak longing glances, there’s no sense of alternately sulking and stewing over his predicament; anger replaces the petulance of youth. After a fistfight, he virtually ignores a busted, bruised hand.
As the young waitress, Elma, Alexa May is delightful. She brings a youthful innocent exuberance to the brainy teenager as she tries to entertain the stuck passengers and befriend them all. She watches, though not always listening to what’s being said, and falls prey to the wiles of a lecher. She still gets dreamy when the situation is explained to her, providing a sense of hope.
Denda Brink as Grace and Michael Button as Carl do a fine job as the two try to hide their sex-only relationship from the others, particularly from Will Masters (Jacob Moore), the town sheriff who may or may not have an interest in Grace. Moore does an excellent job of keeping us riding that fence rail.
The professor, Dr. Gerald Lyman, is played to sinister perfection by Glenn Heath. He’s charming and smart and polite, yet his interest in the young Elma is always simmering in the background. Heath inhabits the role with physicality as well as with vocal intent. The self-realization and apology to Elma show a sense of redemption lending credence to Elma’s final lines.
Abernethy’s Virgil is at once soft and understated yet still forceful enough to control Bo. He watches and listens, subtle reactions painting his expressions. Picking up his guitar, his fingers tell stories even when he’s not playing the instrument. It’s a finely tuned performance, particularly at the end as we see him outside the window strumming and singing.
Production values are beautiful. Raphael Daniels-Devost designed a wonderful 50’s diner. From kitsch on the walls to the bar stools and tiled floor period details abound. Ginny Adams lights the entirety with finesse, particularly the final scene as Grace turns out the lights of the diner and we see Virgil sitting alone in falling snow. Sandy Stein’s sound wraps it all in an environmental blanket, along with an original song that floats like a lullaby.
Kudos to Bette Kennedy’s props–everything is there down to the donuts and hard-boiled egg.
The supporting cast and attention to detail in production values are what make this stop at Grace’s Diner worth the trip.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Feb 2
2 p.m. Saturday, Jan 25
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre-Mainstage, 3920 Schiff drive
Tickets: $22 / $25 (702-362-7996; www.lvlt.org)
Producer: Las Vegas Little Theatre; Director: Sean Critchfield; Set Design: Raphael Daniels-Devost; Lighting Design: Ginny Adams; Sound Design: Sandy Stein; Costume Design: Rose Magee; Stage Manager: Coral Benedetti