I have to admit I liked most of BUS STOP directed with great care by David Schweizer.
But I did have trouble with the important premise that a Kansas City starlet named Cherie (played by the wonderfully talented Susannah Hoffman), trying to make a success in show business would allow herself to be kidnapped onto a BUS and be taken to Montana by a naive 21 year old cowboy name Bo (Jack Fellows). This is what this play starts out with and to me it just doesn't make any sense.
When Cherie and Bo arrive at the bus stop, there's even a Sheriff in the diner, Will Masters (played by Michael D. Nichols) who from the beginning of the play lets Bo know that this kidnapping thing is not going to happen. So, yes, I have a problem with Inge's play right from the start.
But I certainly warmed up to the wonderful cast starting with the owner of the diner Grace Hoyland (a terrific Pilar Witherspoon) who employs an excited high school waitress Elma Duckworth (a wonderful Kayla Ferguson).
The bus driver Carl (Malachy Cleary) reminds me so much of actor John Ratzenberger's Cliff Clavin from the hit television show "Cheers". Maybe because he, like Cravin, wears a bus driver uniform versus a postal carrier uniform. Carl doesn't have much to do in the play except have a behind-the scene relationship with Grace.
Another bus passenger is Dr. Gerald Lyman (the creepy Patrick Husted) and he reminded me so much of Christopher Lloyd from "Taxi" and "Back to the Future". Husted does a fine job as a washed-up professor roaming the outback of the United States who attempts to hit on the young high school waitress Elma.
Bo has a side-kick, a so-called father figure in Virgil Blessing (Larry Tobias) who adds a lot with his guitar playing.
So that's the cast of characters.
The play does not need an intermission. It should be done in one act. But, the second act does bring the play to life with a talent show that features Dr. Lyman and young Elma performing a charming scene from ROMEO AND JULIET. It's hysterical and sad at the same time. The audience loved it.
While many may remember the film that starred Marilyn Monroe, Hoffman does a phenomenal Monroeesque performance singing off-key her big number in a slinky dress. She really pulls it off. She was so bad, she reminded of the musical "Souvenir" starring Judy Kaye that Center Stage presented a few years back.
James Noone's lovely set enters in pieces like a jigsaw puzzle with different sections all coming together to make the one set of the diner. It certainly was a metaphor for the different people coming together for a few hours in the middle of a snow storm in Kansas.
I don't consider BUS STOP a terrific play. Yet, I still enjoyed this wonderful cast all under the capable and experienced hands of accomplished director Schweizer. I still recall with reverence his direction of BOYS FROM SYRACUSE at Center Stage a few years ago.
BUS STOP continues at Center Stage until December 23. For tickets, call 410-332-0033 or visit www.centerstage.org.
Next up at Center Stage is THE MOUNTAINTOP by Katori Hall January 9 to Februray 24, 2013. It deals with DR. Martin Luther King's last night at the Lorraine Hotel when he receives a mysterious visitor.