American playwright William Inge’s pen was sharp and heart searching when he snowbound eight Americans in a small-town Midwest café in the middle of the night. What better no-place and nether-time to strip away the defenses that disguise conflicts within every American: contests of innocence and experience; brutality and refinement; cynicism and optimism; repression and expression; book-learning and mother wit? Great casting and smart technical support make Bus Stop a winning season-opening production for the SBCC Theatre Group. A 1950s café with actual falling snow by scenic designer Patricia L. Frank, and a surround-sound blizzard with mournful harmonica accents by sound designer Ben Crop, magically persuade us that — yes, Toto, I’ve a feeling we are in Kansas.
The most complex and volatile relationship is between a young rodeo cowboy (Pacomio Sun) and the pretty saloon singer (Shannon Sullivan) that he has strong-armed onto the bus, to force her into marriage back home in Montana. Surprisingly, this is Sun’s first leading role onstage, turning out a naïve and conflicted cowboy that seems to have materialized inexplicably from the iconic film Oklahoma! The overall narrative arc depends decisively on the magnetism between these two, and Sun and Sullivan navigate the shifting polarities well. Chelsea Carpenter is absolutely winning as the bookish high school waitress. Bernard Webber as the former philosophy professor seems to capture Inge’s own existential crises regarding the value of knowledge and the authenticity of love. Leslie Gangl Howe and Robert Demetriou play marriage-bored midlifers wandering into the gray world of what-ifs. Sid Zagri, as the sheriff, must lay down the law against a boy who represents his own unredeemed past, while Raymond Wallenthin excels as the drifting ranch hand, at once the kindest and most lonely figure in this detour from belonging.