It's 1955 in a small roadside diner 25 miles west of Kansas City, where five lonely people find their bus ride to Topeka and points onward delayed by a blizzard in the middle of the night.
Presiding over this stop-off is cafe owner Grace Hoylard, a slightly cynical realist, and her helper Elma Duckworth, a smart, but naive high school girl. And keeping order is Sheriff Will Masters, a mountain of a man who seems to know no fear.
As the night wears on, there's romance, discovery, philosophy, physical and emotional confrontations and a sudden, unexpected conclusion that can leave the audience in thoughtful, perhaps stunned, bittersweet silence.
That's the way it was at the Stage West Community Playhouse opening of William Inge's Bus Stop, a gem of a play that continues weekends through Sept. 23 in the theater's Forum.
Anyone who enjoys a good story performed to a turn by a premiere cast will not want to miss this engrossing, delighting production. It's fun, funny and touching, all at the same time, with characters as real as life itself. The scenes flow as smoothly as new-fallen snow, thanks not only to the confident, well-prepared cast, but also to excellent direction by Andrea Gleason and backup from the large behind-the-scenes crew. I only hope that when HAMI awards are voted on next summer that this season starter is remembered and appreciated because it's difficult to imagine better or more deserving performances.
That quality is across the board, but particularly noteworthy are Phil Gianakas as the tall, lanky, naive young ranch owner, Bo Decker, who is, as bus driver Carl says, "First time off the ranch and wild as a bronco"; Bill Myers as the verbose, lecherous old college professor, Dr. Lyman, running one step ahead of the law; and W. Paul Wade as the stern but sensible Sheriff Masters.
Myers' slow, deliberate delivery, timing and pacing are mesmerizing, as his Dr. Lyman philosophizes about life, love, sacrifice and failure, reaching the very soul of the playwright's themes.
It was a blessed day when these three showed up for auditions, because they seem born to play these roles, though longtime Stage West patrons know all three have done equally well in many other incarnations. These are simply fine actors working with a terrific cast and crew.
That includes Gary Ammerman as Bo's lone-wolf father figure, Virgil, strumming his guitar and wondering what his next step is; Cheryl Roberts as the isolated but fiercely independent diner owner Grace, who knows what she can handle; Laura Bennett, making a promising Stage West debut as the young waitress Elma; Kaela Koch, who is convincing as the young, but already shopworn, saloon singer Cherie; and Gary Depp as the slippery, seen-it-all bus driver Carl.
Bus Stop continues the Forum's long string of outstanding, memorable productions, coming in at a solid two hours of compelling enjoyment.