If you’re familiar with “Bus Stop” only through the Marilyn Monroe movie, don’t expect to see it replicated exactly at the Brewery Arts Center’s MHJ Black Box Theater the next two weekends.
“I do find the play more enjoyable than the film,” said Joseph Bly, the director of the Proscenium Players Inc.’s (PPI) production of William Inge’s 1955 play at the BAC.
The difference, said Bly, is in the telling.
“Movies are show, don’t tell. In the theater there’s a lot of tell because you can’t show,” he said.
With “Bus Stop” on stage, that means confining the action to a single set, a Kansas diner where the eight-member cast is stuck overnight during a snowstorm.
The story revolves around Cherie (Christina Dietlein), a young lounge singer from Kansas City and Bo Decker (Joe McClure), a cowboy who’s kidnapping her to Montana to get married when their bus is sidelined by the storm.
There’s also Dr. Gerald Lyman (Ron Shoup), a college philosophy professor, who spends the time flirting with Elma Duckworth (Annalise Sanders), the diner’s teenage waitress.
The play was written as a comedy, said Bly, despite some of the dark plot points.
“Back then it seemed very droll,” said Bly. “Fortunately, audiences are more sophisticated now and they don’t think kidnapping is a good thing.”
The rest of the characters are Grace Hoylard ( Theresa Martin), the diner’s owner; the local sheriff, Will Masters (Ron Flesher); Virgil Blessing (Jeff Basa), an older cowboy and father figure to Bo; and the bus driver, Carl (Kevin Gallegos).
To better tell the story of strangers trapped together, Bly decided to move the set closer to the audience.
Before the play starts, the audience will actually walk across the set, through the diner door, to be seated.
“My concept was to make the audience feel claustrophobic with the actors,” he said.
That presented challenges, too.
“The set is tricky. It has to be a functional diner,” said Bly, with real donuts and real coffee. “They’re eating so close to the audience that we can’t use any theatrical fakery.”
Bly first encountered the play as the assistant lighting director on a production at Ithaca College, where he received a degree in scenic, lighting, and sound design and worked after graduation.
“It has been a joy and an incredible honor to guide and nudge this cast and watch them develop into a ensemble capable of finely-tuned nuance and character development. I would be proud to see this cast perform on any stage in the world,” Bly wrote in the Director’s Note to the BAC program.
“Bus Stop” performances are March 24, 25, 31 and April 1 at 7 p.m. and March 26 and April 2 at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $13 for BAC and PPI members, $15 for seniors and students, and $18 for general admission.
Tickets are available online at breweryarts.org, the BAC Artisan Shop or by calling 883-1976.
The BAC is at 449 W King St.