Springfield Contemporary Theatre's new production of William Inge's modern classic Bus Stop has opened at the company's SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza, and continues through April 3rd. Considering the name recognition of the play (helped, no doubt, by the 1956 film version featuring Marilyn Monroe), I was genuinely surprised when director Dr. Robert Bradley told me he'd never directed Bus Stop before, not even all those years he's been associated with Missouri State University Tent Theatre. "So far as I know," he says, "there has only been one other production of Bus Stop in Springfield: there was a student-directed production done in MSU Carrington (Auditorium) between 25 and 30 years ago. So there has not been a production of Bus Stop here in a long time."
One reason Dr. Bradley decided to produce this show is that the reputation of playwright William Inge--who was born in Independence, Kansas--"took a real plummet starting in the 1960s. And just in the last 10, 15 or so years, he has begun to be re-evaluated. And so he's on the rise again, and people are beginning to look more seriously at his plays than they did." Part of the reason Inge's reputation took a hit is backlash: he was heavily over-hyped when he first emerged in the late 1940s and early '50s, says Bob Bradley. "He probably didn't deserve the acclaim he originally received! When his first play, Come Back, Little Sheba, appeared in the late '40s, he had four hit shows in a row--Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop, and Dark at the Top of the Stairs. At that point he was really being considered a part of that top eschelon of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. And he probably never was that good of a playwright. But I very honestly believe, in re-reading him over the last year or so, he certainly does belong in that second tier of American playwrights. And I'm very glad to see that he's making his way back up."
Bus Stop takes place during a raging snowstorm. A bus out of Kansas City has to pull off the road at a cheerful small-town roadside diner. All the roads are closed by the snowstorm, and the four weary travelers are going to have to stick it out at the diner until morning. Among the characters we meet are Will Masters, the sheriff of the small town where the bus is stranded overnight; the two people who work at the diner--the owner Grace, and a young high school girl; Carl, the bus driver; and the four passengers. They include Cherie (the Marilyn Monroe role), a nightclub chanteuse in a sparkling gown and a seedy fur-trimmed jacket; and Bo Decker, the cowboy who wants to take Cherie off to Montana and marry her--which she isn't at all sure she wants to do! "So ensues," says Dr. Bradley, "the fight... then the wooing... and we'll let you come see to find out what happens! What is interesting is that actually there end up being a number of pairings within the play. A relationship develops between Carl the bus driver and Grace, the owner of the diner. A relationship develops between one of the passengers, Dr. Lyman, and the young high school girl, which to some extent leads Dr. Lyman to a sort of turn of fate, a revelation about himself. And then of course, Bo and Cherie."
Local theater veteran Jerry-Mac Johnston plays Sheriff Will Masters--does he end up in a relationship by the end of the show? Uh, no, says Jerry-Mac: "As in 102 percent of all the plays I've been in in my life, the sheriff goes home alone--again!" he says, laughing. But adds Bob Bradley, the sheriff "does help solve all these problems in one way or the other, or at least to keep them all in law and order." Jerry-Mac describes Will as "basically a small town guy--he's lived in this town all his life. His dad might have been sheriff, his grandad might've been sheriff. And he's just a stoic, let's-get-this-job-done, let's be fair to everybody, adn let's get it over with and just get on with life as simply as we can." Dr. Bradley also calls the sheriff character "very observant--he stands back and watches, and he pretty accurately knows what people will do or may do, and when it comes time for him to intervene he will do so." At this point Jerry-Mac turns to Bob and asks, "Did you tell me any of this during rehearsal?!" Well, don't worry--Jerry-Mac seems to understand his character very well, thank you.
The SCT production of Bus Stop runs Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm through April 3rd, except for Easter Sunday (March 27), when the Center Stage theater will be dark. To make up for that, there's a single Thursday-night performance at 7:30pm on March 31st. For ticket information call 831-8001 or visit http://www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.