By Paige Myers-Ackerman
This article was originally published in Issue 3, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (October 8, 2015). Click here to view the entire issue.
Most people would not expect to discover the meaning of love at a bus stop, but this is just what occurs in the play that opens DeSales University’s Act 1 season.
William Inge’s “Bus Stop” began Act 1’s 46th season on Sept. 30. Director Steven Dennis describes the play as “a drama with romantic and comedic elements.”
The play takes place in 1955 during a blizzard when a bus stops at “Grace’s Dinner” while driving through Kansas. With snow blocking the highway ahead, the passengers are forced to spend the night in the diner.
The array of characters stranded at the diner present complex social relationships that develop throughout the play. The bus passengers include a nightclub singer, Cherie (junior Ally Borgstrom); a former college professor, Dr. Lyman (sophomore Ethan Larsen); and two cowboys, Bo Decker (senior Christopher Skopowski) and Virgil Blessing (junior Michael Covel). The cast also consists of the diner owner, Grace (senior Beth Egan); a young waitress, Elma (sophomore Stephanie Hodge); the bus driver, Carl (Sean Diveny); and a local sheriff, Will Masters (senior Justin Ariola).
While waiting for their travels to proceed, the characters’ time at the diner provides reflections about their identities and relationships.
Actor Justin Ariola notes, “Throughout this evening and into early morning, several of the characters go through a dramatic change, sort of a personal journey.”
The characters come to realizations about their lives and about the nature of several types of love, including affectionate love, appreciative love, self-love and friendship.
Cherie struggles to understand love because of her lack of affection for Bo, who insists she move to Montana and marry him. Cherie ponders why she is not compelled to wed Bo and about the existence of love: “Who’m I to keep insistin’ I should fall in love? You hear all about love when you’re a kid and just take it for granted that such a thing really exists. Maybe ya have to find out for yourself it don’t.”
Cherie’s resistance leaves Bo dumfounded. He states in disbelief, “I just never realized a gal might not love me.” Bo must learn to practice appreciation and compassion in order to understand the nature of love.
Dr. Lyman struggles to sincerely love others and to love himself. He speaks of three past marriages, each of which failed. He also recognizes his lack of self-love when moved by the Shakespearean line, “My name is hateful to myself.”
The love of friendship is shown between Virgil and Bo. Virgil teaches Bo how to act with tenderness and how to respect others.
Friendship is also evident between Grace and Elma. Elma’s interactions with adults during her night at the diner teach her about mature relationships and experiences, concepts that fascinate her. Grace, who recognizes Elma’s naiveté, guides the young woman to value and protect her innocence until she reaches full adulthood.
As the characters come to understand themselves and the nature of love, their relationships develop and strengthen.
“Much of the play explores themes of love and generosity,” explains Dennis. “I tried to flesh out the humanity of these disparate characters in order to illuminate the courage they bring to finding their way in a modern world.”
While the play takes place during a simpler time than today’s contemporary era, the dilemmas the characters face remain relevant.
Dennis believes the conflicts explored throughout the play will resonate with college students: “I think college students might especially relate with the young characters struggling to understand love and how to navigate relationships.”
Love and relationships are concepts that college students strive to understand within their individual lives. The play’s message about the essence of love will move students as the characters realize that “two people, really in love, must give up something of themselves.”
“Bus Stop” runs on the Labuda Main Stage through this Sunday, Oct. 11. Tickets can be purchased online at desales.edu/act1 or at the Labuda box office.