When William Inge’s play, Bus Stop, opened on Broadway in March, 1955, it was an immediate success with critics and Box office. In the social vein of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, here is a literary writer who also focuses on solitary figures and the drama surrounding romance, marriage and relationships.
The stage set is superbly atmospheric – the authentic period, neon-lit interior of a Coca Cola and Burgers roadside diner in mid-west rural Kansas.
It's winter and a snowstorm is blowing a gale outside. As the play opens, the middle-aged café owner Grace and young waitress Elma anticipate the arrival of the interstate bus and its passengers. The local Sheriff, Will, arrives to explain that the snow has closed the Highway so that the bus will be stranded at the diner until the road is cleared.
The driver, Carl and four passengers – Cherie, a nightclub singer, Bo, a young cowboy, Virgil, his ranch buddy, and Dr. Lynam, a philosophy professor - are blown through the door along with thick flurries of snow, (so chillingly realistic to make you shiver!). At 1am, their unexpected entrapment in Grace’s Diner through the cold night ahead begins.
The three act play is beautifully paced - slow, leisurely and languid as they settle down to order coffee and introduce themselves. Tough, rough Bo is besotted by glamorous, blonde Cherie (played with sweet naivety by Amanda Gordon), who is wary of his amorous intentions. Dr Lynam (a subtle, serious performance by Robin Harvey Edwards), passes the hours sipping whisky while enchanting pretty Elma with romantic recitations of Shakespeare.
Watching closely are the Sheriff, keen to keep order, and Virgil, the quiet introspective outsider, as these ad hoc friends and strangers engage in various intimate brief encounters. The tension rises in moments of anger and anguish, quickly shifting to scenes of delightful comedy from the cool, Queenly Grace. She only serves food in her Diner which she likes: “ I guess I'm kinda self-centered, Will.” Grace explains.” “I don't care for cheese m'self, so I never think t'order it for someone else.”
A simple plot with little action perhaps, but Bus Stop is a poetic dream of a play, where you are gradually drawn into the disparate worlds of these sensitive, lost and lonely people. Where have they come from and where are they going when the snow clears, on life’s long journey in the search for true love and happiness.
Performances at Pitlochry Festival Theatre through the summer season until October 14th.