Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Also see Richard's review of Christopher Nelson: Quiet Please, There's a Lady on Stage and Patrick's review of A Little Night Music
The setup is straight out of Drama 101: put characters with different objectives into an enclosed space, prevent them from leaving, and watch the sparks fly. In this instance, the location is a diner in Kansas where busses running between Kansas City and Topeka stop to drop off and take on passengers. But on this snowy night the road has been closed and the few passengers must shelter all night in the diner until crews can reopen the road. In the diner are its proprietress, Grace (Mary Ann Rogers), and her waitress, an innocent high school girl named Elma (Ariana Mahallati). They will soon be joined by Sheriff Will (Steve Price), bus driver Carl (Jeffrey Taylor) and his four passengers: Dr. Lyman (Ron Dritz), a professor of philosophy who loves liquor (and young girls) as much as he does learning, and Cherie (Laura Peterson), a hillbilly girl working as a singer in a low-rent nightclub in Kansas City, who is trying to get away from the other two passengers, Bo (Andrew Morris), an innocent but blustery cowboy who has for all intents and purposes kidnapped Cherie to bring him to his ranch in Montana to be his wife, and Virgil (Aeron Macintyre), Bo's companion and surrogate parent/older brother. Outside, the wind whistles mournfully. And the phone lines are down. Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night.
This production provides one of the most pleasurable experiences I've had in a theater. Director Christian Haines has done a magnificent job and is supported by a cast that delivers stellar performances, each and every one. Watching it is a bit like being a proverbial fly on the wall, as the action shifts smoothly from one set of characters to the next. Whether it's Grace making certain Elma knows that it's Grace who must always serve Carl (it's clear she's crushing hard on the handsome, spunky bus driver), or Dr. Lyman pontificating at the counter, or Bo and Virgil quietly discussing how to more properly woo the reluctant Cherie, Haines and his cast have the timing and transitions just right. The two-plus hours fly by in a riot of pathos, humor, emotion, sexual tension, and unfulfilled dreamsall the drama of life is on display here.
The cast is magnificent. From Steve Price's tough-but-tender sheriff to Mahallati's delightful schoolgirl innocence to Jeffrey Taylor's rough-edged romantic bus driver to the galumphing bull-in-a-china shop desire of Andrew Morris's cowboy Bo, all seem to have found the core humanity of their characters, allowing the audience to love them warts and all. Laura Peterson's Cherie is a true survivor, jaded by her past (including too many failed romances), yet somehow Peterson also shows us the sweet young thing from the Ozarks trying to make her way in the world. As Grace, Mary Ann Rodgers manages to walk the line between world-weariness and optimism with, yes, grace. Aeron Macintyre plays Virgil with a restraint that belies a strong moral corehe's the big brother every kid ought to have, dispensing good advice and country songs in equal measure. Finally, it would be easy to play Dr. Lyman as a clichéd slurring drunk, but Ron Dritz manages to find his own unique way to make this cynical sot someone worth loving.
I suppose if I tried hard I could find things to criticize about this production. But then I remember the smile I felt plastered on my face all evening, and the joy that emanates from this wonderfully balanced and in-synch cast, and the humor and drama and romance of Inge's brilliant script, and any negative thoughts seem to disappear, and I realize that what you should try hard to do is get yourself to Ross to experience this winning production of a classic American play.
Ross Valley Players Bus Stop, Thursdays-Sundays through March 26, 2017, at the Barn Theatre, in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $27 general admission, and $15 for children under 18 and students with valid high school or college ID. Thursday night tickets are $22 for adults and $12 for children and students. Tickets can be ordered by calling 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visiting www.rossvalleyplayers.com.