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Theater Tue Dec 14 2010
Theater is one of the best ways to warm up on these oppressively wintery Chicago evenings. Better yet, how about a story about people looking for other people to keep them warm? Bus Stop, William Inge's heartwarming, all-American tale of human connections and social blunders in the face of a brutal Midwestern snowstorm certainly fits the bill, although some may find it brutally old-fashioned.
Bus Stop, a collaborative directorial debut by veteran actors Lia Mortensen and Ryan Martin, is the first show at The Den Theatre-- a promising new venue capable of seating about 100 with a spacious stage and a cavernous lobby. It is a solid first show with an inviting small-town diner set by Caleb McAndrew and Aimee Plant.
This traditional, 50's-era single-set play, takes place at a bus stop 30 miles outside Kansas City. It opens with a gorgeous, voluptuous 40-something diner owner, Grace (Liz Zweifler), and a sweet and impressively booksmart teenage waitress named Elma (Elise Walter) preparing the diner for the Greyhound to stop out front and the travelers to come streaming in for coffee and day-old doughnuts. First off the bus comes a pretty, 19-year-old nightclub singer named Cherie (Arianne Ellison), who is frantically seeking sanctuary from her obnoxiously virile cowboy fiance who doesn't take no for an answer-- or rather-- doesn't read signals, and probably wouldn't know what 'no' means if he did. Props to Jessica Nemczuk, the make-up artist, by the way-- Cherie's 50's hair is fabulous.
We also meet Carl the busdriver, Elma's hookup interest, and, of course, the town Sheriff, Will. Carl and Will pretty much fit the busdriver and sheriff archetypes, and Inge has chosen to let them be supportive characters, but they are played with great spirit by Ed Smaron (Will) and Karl Pothoff (Carl).
At some point an erudite ex-professor who calls himself Dr. Lyman saunters in looking for rye whiskey, pulls out a flask when he's denied, and begins charming the pants off naieve little Elma with eloquent regurgitations of classic poetry. Ron Wells plays Dr. Lyman, the most interesting character in the play, magnificently. When Dr. Lyman (a.k.a. "The Professor") is not being a sleazy playground-loiterer, his quips and rants are really bright, touching, and often funny.
Soon after Dr. Lyman has slumped into his chair with his spiked pop, the door slams open and the aforementioned virile cowboy "Bo" (Brian Kavanaugh) stomps in, followed by his sidekick/mentor, the much older and wiser Virgil (gracefully played by Will Kinnear). Bo throws off his cowboy hat and tasseled leather jacket and paces around the diner for a few minutes like a caged hyena, yelling out boasts and threats, jumping over furniture like a little kid with ADD. He got lucky with Cherie, decided because this is the 50's that she loves him and he's gonna marry her and has thrown her on a bus back to his ranch in Montana. Now she's realized he's a pig and she's not going with him and Will the sheriff is gonna see to that. But it's not that simple, see, because there's a blizzard and their bus is stuck at the terminal. So they have to stay there, in the little diner, and work through all their demons.
After a cabaret, just a little one-way dryhumping, plenty of girl talk, and a fistfight, we learn that Bo has a soft side and Cherie's a ho (big surprise!) and everyone has a capacity to love and be loved and so on and so forth, and the happy ending commences. It's really a lot like The Breakfast Club. Or rather, The Breakfast Club is like Bus Stop, since it was a film 30 years earlier. Just replace Marilyn Monroe with Molly Ringwald.
Anyway, Bus Stop a good ole-fashioned feel-good play in a really nice new theater. Bring your family. Just keep your daughters away from Dr. Lyman.
Bus Stop runs now through Jan. 22, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm; Sundays at 3pm. NO SHOWS Dec. 23-26, 31, and Jan. 1. The Den in located at 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Wicker Park, accessible by CTA Blue Line and bus routes. Tickets are $20 with reservations and $25 at the door. For general information, reservations, and group rates contact Ryan Martin at email@example.com.