A Slice of Americana 

Grace's Restaurant -- the setting for William Inge's Bus Stop -- specializes in homemade pies and epiphanies.

The play is a textbook dramatic schemata: Isolate a disparate cross section of the nation's populace and force them to deal with each other. Throw in a burgeoning lecherous romance and an arrogant young buck who needs to be brought down a peg, and it's a theatrical test tube that includes every war movie ever made and then some.

The Star Bar Players' season opener showcases some exceptional performances, but I'm not sure why this particular play needed reviving. The scenario is as follows:

A bus has been forced off the road by a snowstorm, stranding an assortment of troubled folks in Grace's Restaurant. While Grace (Amy Brooks) absconds for some clandestine boot- knocking with her bus-driving lover (Tony Babin), her restaurant descends into a cauldron of reckoning with the demons of arrogance, denial and love.

First to get the ball rolling is Cherie (Alysabeth Clements), who bounds into Grace's Restaurant seeking asylum from her cowboy fianc, Bo, who is bent on wedding and bedding her down on his Montana ranch. Bo is the prototypical alpha male moron. He makes a point of announcing his bank statement to a restaurant full of strangers. In an age of urban-o-centricity, it's somewhat charming that a man might see fit to wow you by cataloging his livestock.

Cherie is a young but seen-it-all nightclub singer who made the mistake of indulging the googly-eyed Bo, who has no idea she has been around the block several times over. Not surprisingly, Cherie's had it with her suitor's boisterous navet, and seeks refuge in Grace's Restaurant. Upon discovering Cherie's intentions to leave him, Bo becomes inconsolably apoplectic. Act One ends with his earnest confession that he never thought a woman could resist him.

Meanwhile, at the restaurant counter, Dr. Gerald Lyman (Phil Ginsburg) recaps his three marriages to the sprightly young waitress, Elma Duckworth (Erika Zaccaria), who is torn between flattery and discomfort. Ginsburg is Bus Stop's undisputed show-stealer. His nutty patrician professor routine is filled with a hilarious bitterness masked in self-effacing dark humor. The skeleton in his closet is a career's worth of lechery with young female students. Peppered with diatribes on the state of higher education, Lyman's musings brim with denial, a bit of rage mixed in. While Ginsburg may lack the poise needed for a successful lecher, his brand of pompous humor more than compensates.

Unfortunately, Bus Stop hinges on the vicissitudes of Bo and Cherie's relationship. Despite Clements' convincing Cherie -- with her sassy-country-girl-turned-city-slicker dialect, Clements is quite effective as a woman caught between dwindling life choices and a pre-feminist conscience -- she can't haul the load on her own. Even though the role sometimes calls for it, Brantley Haines' Bo is excessively over the top. His constant sneers and scowls evoke a toddler's "mad face" and there's never a moment when he is not "acting." This deters much empathy or interest in his humility lesson, which is the cornerstone of the play. Act Three's denouement is as predictable as it is cumbersome. Bus Stop is a slice of Americana -- a pie with some delicious filling and a few foul fruits.

-- John Dicker


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