Review: What does it mean-& take-to love someone?
This review was written by Mike Fischer and appeared Saturday, April 14, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's JSOLine.
What does it mean - and take - to love someone?
That's the question on the table in every William Inge play, but it's never asked with more humor than in "Bus Stop," in which a bus driver and his four passengers join three locals in a rural coffee shop, where they'll spend the night waiting out a blizzard.
"Bus Stop" is a genuine ensemble piece, which makes it ideal for the final installment in the three-year collaboration between Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and university theater departments.
This time, the Chamber has joined forces with the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, with Parkside undergraduates filling three roles: Brenna Kempf as a high school waitress, Ethan Hall as an impetuous cowboy and Anne Walaszek as Cherie, the aspiring nightclub singer he woos.
They join Parkside professor Jamie Cheatham - playing a dissolute professor - and four established local actors (Doug Jarecki as the bus driver, Dan Katula as the sheriff, Patrick Lawlor as an older cowboy and Jacque Troy as the cafe owner) to bring Inge's world to life.
Under Lisa Kornetsky's direction, that world develops like a Robert Altman film, as subgroups of characters flirt, fight and shoot the breeze, all at the same time.
Keeping her characters busy and using the entire Cabot Theatre stage, Kornetsky gets us past Inge's occasionally static exposition by always giving us something else to watch. Most important, Kornetsky's blocking allows her characters the necessary illusion of privacy - in what is a very public space - to express and develop their inner thoughts.
Kornetsky's cast needs all the room she gives them. The characters in "Bus Stop" are broadly sketched, and the temptation is to play them for their many laugh lines.
Spurred by a lively audience that was swelled by numerous Parkside students, there were laughs aplenty at Friday's opening-night performance. But every time this production teeters toward farce, someone in the cast throws a vintage Inge sucker punch, delivered to the gut and reminding us how lonely these characters are.
A few of many possible examples:
Those rare moments when Cheatham's professor stops clowning and owns the ruin he has made of his life.
The resentment, disappointment and insecurity threatening to curdle the dreamy hope in Walaszek's beautifully played Cherie.
The confusion of sex with love - and the restless dissatisfaction that results - in Troy's cafe owner.
And, finally, Lawlor's poignantly understated depiction of Virgil, an old hand whose sacrifices for his protégé capture what's best about the Chamber's collaborative venture, which exhibits the courage and grace to make room for the young.
IF YOU GO"Bus Stop" continues through April 29 at the Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. For tickets, call (414) 291-7800 or go to milwaukeechambertheatre.com.