Not Your Grandma’s Bus Stop

 

Salinas, CA — May 10, 2007

 

Remember the 1956 film version of William Inge’s “Bus Stop” starring Marilyn Monroe as Cherie, the less-than-talented nightclub singer, and Don Murray as Bo, the rowdy cowboy who kidnaps her with the intention of making the aspiring starlet his wife?

 

Well, erase those memories from your mind. The Western Stage is presenting the authentic, non-Hollywood version of William Inge’s enduring comedy about a rag-tag band of misfits who get stranded at a roadside diner during a snowstorm beginning June 1 in the intimate Studio Theater at Hartnell College. Directed by TWS veteran Jim McLean, whose previous credits include Pride’s Crossing and Inherit the Wind, this production will be a fresh surprise for anyone who’s only seen the movie version.

 

With all due respect to screenwriter George Axelrod, the often over-the-top film version of Bus Stop bears little resemblance to Inge’s subtle story about the many faces of love and the struggles people face to make an intimate connection with one another. Whereas Axelrod focused the lens of the film directly on the farcical relationship between Bo and Cherie, Inge painted a more thoughtful mural on the stage featuring an ensemble of characters whose troubled relationships created a montage of romantic dilemmas.

 

One key character left out of the film is Dr. Lyman, the lecherous college professor with a preference for youthful girls just on the threshold of adulthood. His absence makes sense when you’re trying to make a silly light comedy with a Hollywood icon like Monroe, but when you’re trying to explore the numerous incarnations of love from the pure to the grotesque, a character like Dr. Lyman is a pivotal element on your canvas.

 

“One of the interesting things is that Lyman has the most cogent things to say in the play,” says longtime TWS actor Jeff Heyer, who will be performing the role of Dr. Lyman in the upcoming production. “Although far from anybody’s idea of a role model, he states some of the most basic things about love and the need to let down your defenses.” Ironically, despite his insights about love, Lyman is the least successful in his pursuit.

 

Heyer, however, is quick to point out that Lyman is nothing like Humbert Humbert in “Lolita”. He’s not wooing thirteen year olds. He’s romancing the college girls he supposed to be teaching, and the young waitress at the bus stop diner in which they are stranded. What his character truly represents is a sexual desire that is considered aberrant by mainstream society. He is an older man who pursues girls considerably younger than him.

 

Inge’s interest in exploring this particular face of love makes sense especially when considering the playwright’s own life. In many ways Lyman’s character resembles Inge himself. Like Lyman, Inge battled alcoholism. He worked as a college professor at a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. On several occasions, he even traveled the same bus route to Kansas City as the characters are traveling in the play, and actually drew his inspiration to write “Bus Stop” from a memory of a man relentlessly pursuing a woman on the bus during one of those trips. The difference between Inge and Lyman, however, is the particulars of what in 1950’s America would have been considered their scandalous sexual inclinations. 

 

For most of his life, Inge struggled with his own homosexuality. Growing up in the Midwest during the early part of the 20th century, he was well aware of the stigma and damaging labels his sexual orientation would produce if discovered. Like Tennessee Williams and Rock Hudson, he chose to live a closeted life to protect his career. It wouldn’t be until the more liberal 1960’s that Inge would begin to feel free enough to explore the pain produced not being able to be open about his sexuality in plays like “The Boy in the Basement”, a one-act that deals with the dilemma a young mortician faces when his mother discovers he is gay.

 

Inge, by all accounts, lived a life as lonely and isolated as many of the characters he wrote about in plays like “Bus Stop” and “Come Back Little Sheba”. His final years were spent living with his sister in his Hollywood home. In 1973, he committed suicide, succumbing to a life of alcoholism and depression.

 

“Bus Stop” plays at The Western Stage June 1 – 24 in the studio theatre, Hartnell College Performing Arts Building. Show times are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm. Season tickets are still the best deal, saving patrons upwards of 42% off the single ticket price. Subscriptions and single tickets can be purchased online at westernstage.com or through the box office by calling (831) 375-2111.