Everyman's 'Bus Stop' brings realistic polish to avant-garde stage @

June 04, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

There's an amusing speech in William Inge's "Bus Stop" when the character of Cherie, a self-described "chanteuse," tells how she got her big break in a talent competition -- though she only won second prize. "I don't think [it's] fair," she complains, "to make an artistic performer compete with jugglers and knife-throwers and people like that."

This is even more amusing when you consider that at the Theatre Project -- which is known for presenting the work of the avant-garde and new vaudeville -- jugglers have been more frequent performers than actors in the naturalistic, if not to say classic, plays of writers such as William Inge.

Vincent Lancisi, producing director of Everyman Theatre, draws attention to this apparent contradiction in the program for the sterling production of "Bus Stop" that his company has staged at the Theatre Project. However, even without the overt mention, you recognize the break with avant-garde tradition as soon as you see designer Amy Roy's stunningly realistic set. From the old cash register and telephone to the red Formica counter top and plastic ketchup bottles, everything looks just right.

And once the actors start filtering in -- Inge's 1955 chestnut is about bus passengers stranded in a rural Kansas diner during a storm -- they look just right, too. They also sound just right, and for the most part, they act just right, as directed by Grover Gardner.

Inge's characters are essentially types. Cherie is a blond floozy -- but with a good heart, of course. Even allowing for hard living, actress Delia Taylor looks older than Cherie's supposed 19 years, but her combined earnestness and skittishness make it easy to believe that this two-bit nightclub singer is afraid of the untamed cowboy with whom she's reluctantly traveling.

That cowboy, Bo, is at the center of Inge's drama; when he enters the room, he should bristle with enough menace to make the audience, as well as Cherie, uneasy. But while Kyle Prue has the proper rough-edged handsome appearance, his portrayal lacks a sense of real danger.

It's one of the rare shortcomings in this carefully detailed production (another is the portrayal of the diner owner by Johanna Rodriguez, who works a little too hard at seeming worldly). However, the other performances more than compensate. Particularly noteworthy are Kristina Smith as the intelligent but innocent teen-aged waitress and Stan Weiman as the alcoholic ex-professor with a questionable interest in her.

Also exactly on key are Marty McDonough as Bo's older and wiser, tobacco-chawing sidekick and Larry Daly as the bus driver -- he even hitches up his trousers with a bus driver's authority. As the popular sheriff, Bruce Godfrey at first seems to have been cast against type, but he brings fatherly dignity to the role, as well as an unexpectedly authentic home-on-the-range feel.

Although this production is at the Theatre Project, the Baltimore-based Everyman Theatre is merely renting the space. It's not part of the Project's regular season or local residency program. But it probably should be. At a time when impressive new theater troupes seem to be springing up with some regularity in these parts, Everyman stands out as one the most polished of the bunch.

"Bus Stop"

Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.

When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Through June 20

Tickets: $12 and $14

Call: (410) 987-1625

*** 1/2

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