Where's the crotch?
As enjoyable as the Carnegie Mellon University production of William Inge's comedy Bus Stop is, there seems to be a big hole where a big ... well, you get the idea.
Set in a small-town bus stop on a frozen 1955 night somewhere outside of Kansas City, Inge tells the tale of weary folk forced together when a blizzard waylays their bus.
Hard-bitten café owner Grace and wide-eyed schoolgirl Elma look after a seedy English professor, Dr. Lyman, and Virgil, a wizened ranch hand. Virg has got his hands full corralling a young cowboy named Bo, who has kidnapped the honky-tonk singer Cherie. It's a slice-o'-life play you'd dismiss as cliché until you remember it was Inge who invented this now-much-imitated schematic. Watching Inge capture such a huge chunk of mid-century Americana with so little visible effort is an extraordinary experience.
Director Gregory Lehane has put together a very sharp and brisk production, featuring a cast who bring a great deal of life to the evening, especially a very appealing Jessie Ryan, as Alma.
But at its core, there's something missing. This is a play about lonely people searching for connection.
No, that's too polite. They want sex. As he did in other plays (Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba), Inge perfumes this work with an almost grinding desire, which leads several characters to unfortunate choices. (Considering that he was a self-loathing, alcoholic gay man who committed suicide, Inge certainly knew about untoward lust.) Everyone of them has an ache that most of them think a tumble in the sack will cure. The sadness, of course, is that it doesn't.
But that's all missing here. Lehane and company studiously, and curiously, avoid any subtext. I don't know what to say about the set, a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland: I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what it had to do with Inge's quintessential kitchen-sink play, or even Lehane's perky vision of it, but I gave up.
Still, while it's true that Lehane and company haven't staged a definitive Bus Stop, with so much obvious talent at work, they have created a very enjoyable one.