On my way to the Summer Company's production of William Inge's classic Bus Stop, I remembered a local college production last season, and the friend I'd coerced into going with me. After so many years of enduring bad theater at my side, members of my circle usually remember a previous engagement if I suggest seeing a show. But I'd promised my friend that not even the most "artistic" of directors could mess up this quintessential comedy, set in a rural bus stop/diner on the Kansas plains where, due to a snow storm, the passengers are stranded for the night.
So we walked into the theater and found that the director had set the production in a zombie-apocalypse wasteland; a bombed-out bus inside of which the actors stood mute until they made their entrances, some tumbleweeds and a yellow line across the stage with some tables and chairs. This diner wasn't roadside: It was in the middle of the road. I don't think my friend has ever forgiven me.
So whatever else I want to say about the Summer Company's production, I want to commend director Justin Sines for not setting it in a zombie-apocalypse wasteland.
John E. Lane Jr. has, in fact, designed a lovely (and textually appropriate!) set, proving that you can do a lot with little money if you have a good eye. The only downside is that everything's a little too new and scrubbed clean for this tale of worn-out people in a worn-out place.
An empathetic Roberta Honse and punchy Michael McBurney, as diner proprietor and bus driver, have been sanded down enough by disappointment to settle for the fleeting joy they find. A melancholic Richard Eckman and rock-ribbed Everett Lowe, as an old ranch hand and sheriff, are wise enough to know which battles to pick; Patrick Conner is the drunk, lascivious Dr. Lyman. Caitlin Young, Moira Quigley and Ross Kobelak as Elma, Cherie and Bo, provide youthful optimism and high spirits, giving this production enjoyable energy.
I can't say that this is a definitive Bus Stop — Sines allows a dragging pace, for one. But at least there's not a zombie in sight.