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Review: 'Bus Stop'
'That Old Black Magic' works its spell at the Purple Rose

"Somehow, deep inside me, I got a funny feeling I'm gonna end up in Montana," a 19-year-old nightclub singer, known only as Cheri, says in the romantic comedy "Bus Stop."
And you know what? Those of us who were in the audience last Friday for the opening night performance of the William Inge classic at Chelsea's Purple Rose Theatre suspected as much, as well.
That's because of all the productions of "Bus Stop" I've seen over the past few decades, never have I experienced one that so richly explores these characters' depths.
Inge, a Kansas native whose early works were often compared to that of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams, is celebrated as a playwright who probed "the aspirations and frustrations of small-town life in the Midwest." His characters were often lonely and flawed, and his work reflected the best and worst of romantic relationships.
In other words, there is something in his plays that each of us can recognize or identify with!
That's especially true with "Bus Stop's" main protagonists: Cheri, a chanteuse from the Ozarks who has already had her fair share of troubles with the opposite sex, and Bo Decker, a handsome, loud and rowdy cowboy from Montana who's had very little. Sexual experience, that is.
The two met when Bo, visiting town to appear in the local rodeo, entered the nightclub where Cheri worked. He fell in love upon hearing her rendition of his favorite song, "That Old Black Magic." So after spending the night with her, he proposed and offered to take Cheri back to his ranch where, he believed, they would live happily ever after.
Cheri, however, had other ideas.
Afraid of how Bo would react to rejection -and believing he'd kidnap her anyway- Cheri quit her job and planned to leave town aboard a bus. Bo discovered her plans and joined her – much to her dismay.
As the play opens, a severe snowstorm halts the bus at a small town diner outside Kansas City where the four weary riders disembark to await the road's reopening. Grace Hoyland, the restaurant's owner, warmly welcomes her guests, and for the next four hours, teenage waitress Elma Duckworth eagerly serves them.
As the three-act play unfolds – with two intermissions, a rarity these days – playwright Inge slowly reveals the lives – and foibles – of his characters. But it's in the expert hands of director Guy Sanville and his excellent performers that they truly come to life.
Unlike many other productions of "Bus Stop," each of Sanville's actors plumbs their character to discover what makes them tick. These are ordinary people, to be sure, but they become living, breathing, unique individuals in the hands of these talented actors.
Brian Letscher adds layers to the boisterous cowboy, Bo, with a portrayal that reveals not only his seething anger and frustration, but the slow-dawning realization that maybe the cowboy way is not always the best way to approach a girl you love. Inga R. Wilson explodes with unexpected fury when Cheri confronts her adamant suitor, then wistfully pulls back when she discovers the cowboy's more sensitive side. Sheriff Will Masters becomes an even more powerful influence by the quiet, controlled and perfectly understated performance of Grant R. Krause. The very adult Molly Thomas glows with giddy innocence as the very realistic and very teenage Elma. And Paul Hopper's Virgil Blessing is yet another first-rate performance in a season jam-packed with them.
Amongst a sea of talent, however, John Lepard especially shines as Dr. Gerald Lyman, a thrice-married former college professor who has a thing for cute young girls. He reveals much about his character, but does so in many small, almost imperceptible ways. It's a remarkable interpretation from start to finish.
Director Sanville's skillful direction keeps the audience focused at all times; his transitions between scenes are impeccably choreographed.
And as always, all technical aspects of the production are top-notch.
"Bus Stop" Presented Wednesday through Sunday at Purple Rose Theatre, 137 Park St., Chelsea, through June 4. Tickets: $17.50 – $32.50. 734-433-7673. http://www.purplerosetheatre.org.
The Bottom Line: A season of excellence motors along with "Bus Stop."

Tidbits: Theater News from Around Town
Dubin's New York 'Boob Job'; Another Concert for a Cure at the Gem

ITEM: "Boob Job," a one-act play by Michigan resident Kitty Dubin, has been selected for inclusion in this year's New York City 15 Minute Playwriting Festival at the American Globe Theatre.
In this humorously poignant play, two women from different backgrounds meet in a plastic surgeon's waiting room where they help each other discover that the changes they want to make must come from within themselves.
Dubin directs her play, with Detroit actors Mila Govich and Robin Lewis-Bedz in the lead roles.
The performance is scheduled for April 23 at 8 p.m.
Another of Dubin's works, "Mimi and Me," was a winner of the festival in 1999.
Closer to home, her one-acts have been a part of the Heartlande Theatre Company's Annual Play by Play Festival for the past seven years; her full-length plays have received professional stagings by the Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company, the Purple Rose Theatre Company, the BoarsHead Theatre and Flanders Theater Company. She currently teaches playwriting at Oakland University.
ITEM: You can't argue with success! Hot on the heels of the successful Detroit Concert for a Cure comes its sequel, Detroit Concert for a Cure II, scheduled for Monday, May 9 at Detroit's Gem Theatre.
Cast members from the long-anticipated production of "Hairspray" will be joined by host Scott Nevins, local celebrities and students from local colleges, high schools and dance studios. Festivities include a silent auction, a raffle to benefit the Midwest AIDS Prevention Project and an afterglow at the Century grille with appetizers and music by Dry Bones Jazz Band.
The doors open at 6 p.m.; the gala begins at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $35. Proceeds from the tickets and silent auction will benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.
More than $9,500 was raised at the March benefit.
For information or tickets, call 313-963-9800 or log online to http://www.gemtheatre.com.



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