This classic romantic comedy seems to have withstood the test of time. Many remember Marilyn Monroe, as Cherie, in the 1956 film. The story still warms the audience like stepping inside from the cold of the Midwestern blizzard that provides the background for the play.
During the storm, a bus has become stranded at a roadside diner. The diner owner, Grace (Jane Summerhays), and her young waitress (Judith Ingber) take care of the bus driver, Carl (Harry Winter), and his passengers throughout the night while waiting for the roads to be cleared. The bus passengers include a somewhat down on his luck university professor, Dr. Lyman (James Slaughter), a young rowdy cowboy, Bo (Boyd Harris), and his ranch hand mentor (James Judy) and Cherie, the young nightclub singer (Jean Lichty) who Bo is trying to take off to Montana to marry. The local sheriff (Timmy Ray James) stops by throughout the night to check on things.
The Olney production is hit-and-miss, an inconsistent production with some fine performances. James gives an excellent rendition of a crusty old backwater sheriff with just the right twinkle in his eye. He shows both a soft side to those he knows but a rough side to those he doesn’t. Ingber gives just the right interpretation of a smart but awkward teen who is flattered by the poetic university professor. She gives good flashes of the potential the girl will have when she grows up, but still shows the gangly caterpillar that is not quite the butterfly yet. Slaughter, who has performed many times at Olney, gives one of his best performances to date. He manages to make the distateful Dr. Lyman charismatic. Having seen several productions of this show, this was the first time that I sympathized with the doctor. And Boyd Harris delivers a brash, masculine roughneck cowboy that raises the audience’s hackles until he learns to be the romantic hero and softens the audience’s hearts.
Judy gives a solid workmanlike effort to the ranch hand, Virgil, but doesn’t seem to have the chemistry with Bo to reflect the man who raised Bo since his parents died. Winter is one of my favorite performers in the DC area, but this casting seems to be a mismatch. His clothes are a little too neat and his mannerisms and speaking style are a little too nice for a good ol’ boy driving the Kansas City run. He also seems to be a bit older than Grace and the flirtatious relationship doesn’t seem to have the right tone. Although playing the most well-known character of the play, the one that Marilyn Monroe made famous, Lichty doesn’t quite carry the role well enough. She looks the part and sounds the part, but she doesn’t have the stage presence to really make the audience like Cherie. We need to immediately empathize with her. We don’t quite feel the relationship that she has with Bo and the changes it undergoes throughout the story and this central plot element doesn’t carry the show as it should. Also, despite the fact that the character is not a great singer (and Monroe deliberately sang rather mediocre), I think Lichty overdid the poor singing just a touch—it was not convincing that this woman would be hired to sing in a nightclub, even a dive. Summerhays looks good as Grace, but unfortunately, her Eastern accent did not fit the Midwestern vernacular that her lines called for and she frequently paused during or before lines that felt like she was having line problems. If it was a style choice, it was lost on this reviewer.
Scenic designer, Stephen Dobay, creates an amazing authentic looking 50’s style diner. Unfortunately, despite the beautiful set, the production was marred by director Austin Pendleton’s lack of attention to detail. The show was full of numerous inconsistencies that distracted from the performances. Grace’s lines are written in a Midwestern vernacular, yet delivered in an Eastern accent which sounds odd around the dialect. Characters frequently complain about how cold it is outside and yet several do not put a coat on to go outside—including the young lady in a sleeveless spaghetti strap dress. The young lady who “really needs the money” leaves the diner without her purse. The young cowboy is very hungry, yet gets food, eats none of it and then demands more. The blocking is at times senseless and characters move places with no reason just to be in the right place at the right time. These distractions occur regularly enough to divert the audience from the heartwarming story.
by William Inge
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Produced by Olney Theatre Center
Reviewed by Ted Ying
Bus Stop runs through March 14, 2010.