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Good cast helps 'Bus Stop' work

BUS STOP, by William Inge; StageRight TheaterCompany, 1140 S. 900 East; directed by Mike Brown; continues through April 7; performances at 7:30 p.m. on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. General admission seating. Tickets: $7 for adults and $6 for senior citizens and students. For reservations, call 485-8038. Running time: 2 hours (three acts; one intermission).

The playbill for "Bus Stop" doesn't indicate the period it's set in — but Grace's Diner, a small, roadside greasy spoon about 30 miles west of Kansas City, has "mid-1950s" stamped all over it. A photograph of James Dean hangs just inside the front door, a vintage Philco refrigerator is behind the counter and the special of the day, scrawled on a blackboard, is "burger, chips and coffee — $1.09."

This Broadway hit, which later became a Hollywood showcase for one of Marilyn Monroe's best performances, is rarely staged these days. It can't be because it has nothing to say. "Bus Stop" has plenty to say about human foibles and redemption. From the pen of the same genius who wrote "Picnic," "Come Back, Little Sheba" and "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs," this has a lighter, comedic side to it, while still honing in on some sharply defined characters, all of whom are far from perfect.

The two central characters are Cherie, a slightly shopworn chanteuse at the Blue Dragon, a tawdry nightclub down by the Kansas City stockyards, and Bo Decker, an uncouth bumpkin fresh off the ranch in Montana.

They're both passengers on a Topeka-bound bus, stalled at Grace's Diner for four hours one night during a fierce blizzard.

Bo is headed back to Timber Hill, Mont., after competing in a big rodeo; Cherie is the girl he intends to marry — whether she wants to or not. She's terrified of his angry outbursts and obsessive nature.

Alexis Owen, probably best known for her "improv" work at the Off Broadway Theatre, is terrific as Cherie. Rusty Bringhurst also gives a robust (if a bit loud at times) performance as rambunctious Bo.

Dashing into the diner (while Bo is still asleep on the bus), Cherie is anxious to flee what she perceives as an abduction. She's befriended by Grace Hoyland, the take-no-guff owner of the diner (don't even ask for a cheeseburger . . . .she hates cheese and never has any on hand), and her naive young waitress, Elma Duckworth.

Barb Gandy gives Grace a feisty edge. She's been lonely since her husband died, but she looks forward to seeing the drivers of the eastbound and westbound buses who unload their hungry passengers at her little cafe. Some of the folks are emotionally starved, as well.

The storm chases a few other people into the diner this chilly, snowy March night — Sheriff Will Masters, whose office is across the street, watchful for any potential danger; Dr. Gerald Lyman, an inebriated intellectual who may or may not have a sullied history, and Carl, the bus driver, whose idea of something warm and comfortable isn't merely a cup of freshly brewed coffee.

Bryan P. Jacobs, who also designed the nifty scenery, is well-cast as Virgil, Bo's trusted ranch hand. He's suddenly forced to attempt to teach the lad a few social skills.

Greg Peters is very good as Lyman, a misguided, thrice-divorced maverick.

Chuck Moore and David Tucker are also fine as Carl and Will, and Emily Duckworth exudes the aura of a vulnerable, wet-behind-the-ears young woman.

Sensitivity rating: Some of the situations may be too mature for younger children.