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Bus Stop at Raven Theatre | Theater review

Raven’s production of William Inge’s oft-revived piece of Americana offers charm to spare.

Photograph: Dean La Prairie
Bus Stop at Raven Theatre

During a traffic-crippling blizzard, the passengers of a Greyhound bus are stranded in a Kansas diner where doughnuts and coffee are served with complimentary self-discovery. Like a rural American Canterbury Tales, William Inge’s tender 1955 chestnut explores themes of addiction, love and sex through the travelers’ stories. JoAnn Montemurro’s production has a country charm that lends itself well to Inge’s romantic view.

Ray Toler’s wonderful set design captures the weathered but inviting interior in meticulous detail. Coca-Cola ads and pinup-girl posters adorn the walls, and the furniture is a mix of restaurant surplus and family dining room. The eatery becomes a stage where tragedy and romantic comedy play side-by-side, as thrice-divorced Dr. Gerald Lyman (Jon Steinhagen) grapples with personal demons and nightclub singer Cherie (Jen Short) tries to escape a cowboy who thinks she’s his fiancée. Short strikes a nice balance between anxiety and allure as a young woman who doesn’t fully understand the effect she has on men. Her cowboy captor, Bo (Michael Stegall), puts on an aggressive demeanor to hide the inexperienced, shy boy he is, and Stegall finds the naïveté that redeems his character’s obnoxious actions.

A broken man struggling with substance abuse and sexual addiction, Dr. Lyman puts up a mask of intellectual superiority to hide his shame; Steinhagen’s portrayal grows in intensity with each sip of spiked coffee. While Steinhagen skillfully traces Lyman’s breakdown as the mask slips away, his relationship with young waitress Elma (Sophia Menendian) suffers because of his costar. Menendian is inexplicably the only actor without an accent, and the stagnant cadence and pitch of her voice makes her dialogue sound canned and insincere. The ensemble works hard to make Inge’s characters as real as possible, but Menendian looks as if she’s playing a part instead of living a life.

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