Almost anyone around in the mid 1950s remembers the inimitable Marilyn Monroe's sensuous version of Old Black Magic in the 1956 movie Bus Stop. That is perhaps all they can remember — and it's just as well.
The William Inge stage version opening Thursday at the Forum at Stage West Community Playhouse is akin to the Monroe movie mostly in name only. Many of the characters are the same; the time and place are alike. But the mood is altogether different, and will, therefore, be a new experience, even to those who have seen the movie.
In addition, says director Andrea Gleason, "Quite frankly, I have given it my own interpretation." Not so much as to alter the thrust of the critically acclaimed play, but only to better delineate the characters.
Set in 1955 at a roadside diner 25 miles west of Kansas City, it centers on the one-sided love that the brash young ranch hand Bo Decker (Phillip Gianakas, Richard in Everything in the Garden) has for the beautiful young saloon singer Cherie (Kaela Koch, Corie in Barefoot in the Park).
Cherie has fled her Phoenix home in hopes of eluding Bo, who wants to cart her off to his lonely place in Montana, but Bo has pursued her, insisting that their one kiss means they're engaged to be married. Cherie appeals to the gruff but good-hearted sheriff, Will Masters (W. Paul Wade, Man in Veronica's Room) for help, but since the bus passengers are stuck in the diner at 1 a.m. because of a snowstorm, Will can do only so much to help Cherie get away from Bo.
Diner owner Grace Hoylard (Cheryl Roberts, Arlene in 45 Seconds from Broadway), a divorcee with a jaundiced view of relationships, and Elma Duckworth (Laura Bennett), the naive young waiter at the diner, size up the situation pretty well. Grace continues her on-again, off-again liaison with bus driver Carl (Gary Depp Jack in Everything/Garden), and the randy, aging professor Dr. Gerald Lyman (Bill Myers, Cervantes in Man of La Mancha) has his eye on Elma.
As these three romances ebb and flow, the wise old ranch hand Virgil Blessing (Victor in Barefoot) sees everything in perspective and tries to guide the over-eager Bo in the right direction.
"It's a story about people seeking love in many, many different ways," Ms. Gleason said. "There's sexual love, love to alleviate loneliness and parental love. They're all looking for something to fulfill their lives."
Inge's play was nominated for four Tony Awards, including Best Play, and it has seen three revivals in Great Britain, the most recent in 2011.
The Guardian reviewer described Bus Stop as "an Edward Hopper painting with dialogue," a reference to the artist's famous Nighthawks, which shows the late night patrons at a lonely all-night corner diner through the diner's big windows.