Review: SBCC Theater Group presents William Inge’s ‘Bus Stop’

Review: SBCC Theater Group presents William Inges Bus Stop

Antonio Salcido, Arts Editor

The sound of howling wind fills the room. The lights fade on. William Inge’s “Bus Stop” has begun.

Directed by theater instructor, R. Michal Gross, this 1950’s slice-of-life production takes the audience far from the comfortable Santa Barbara sunshine into the wretched cold of a snowstorm in rural Kansas. A bus bound for Topeka gets caught in the storm, and with the roads closed, the weary travelers must wait out in a small roadside diner.

The stage designers beautifully crafted a one-room set that immerses you in the scene. Frost borders the rim of the diner windows, while snow constantly falls from the ceiling.

And if real snow wasn’t realistic enough, occasionally a character leaves the diner and can be seen staggering their way in the storm through the window.

Inside, the diner embodies a safe refuge for the travelers. It is complete with furnace, seating, and day-old doughnuts; the perfect place for the characters to get into trouble.

It is apparent that Gross spent a lot of time directing the cast on the different dimensions to their characters.  The characters are convincing, humanized and genuine. They are all faced with their own problems, concentrating on the recurring theme of loneliness, which is echoed by the storm.

First off the bus is Cherie (Shannon Sullivan), a nightclub singer from the city, who comes bursting in looking for a place to hide from a cowboy that can’t seem to take a hint that she is not interested in him. You’ll be blown away by Sullivan’s sensual rendition of “That Old Black Magic,” as she struts atop the bar counter.

Next is the washed out professor, Dr. Gerald Lyman (Bernard Webber). Almost immediately he starts drinking his rye whiskey and offer tedious one-liners to add comic relief.

Finally, in come the ranch hand, Virgil (Raymond Wallenthin), and the boisterous cowboy, Bo Decker (Pacomio Sun), who somehow gets in a fistfight with the Sheriff (Sid Zagri) and nearly gets arrested in his short time at the diner.

Sun meticulously captures his characters tenacious spirit through his accent and mannerisms.  Zagri, as the Sherriff, does exceptionally well as a small town authority who teaches Bo life lessons, lessons Zagri himself was taught when he played Bo in college.

If you’re wondering where the romance is, don’t worry, it has plenty. The restaurant owner, Grace (Leslie Gangl Howe), and the bus driver, Carl (Robert Demetriou), flirt back-and-forth and disappear upstairs for most of the second act.

The old drunken professor has his eye on the young high school waitress, Elma Duckworth (Chelsea Carpender). And there is Bo, who insists on marrying Cherie after a one-night stand.

The story itself is well told but dated. The actor’s knowledge of the play and their corresponding roles combined with the outstanding set is what make this play worth seeing.

Performances continue up to Nov. 2, in the Garvin Theatre on West Campus.