During a howling snowstorm a busload of weary travelers takes refuge overnight in a remote roadside diner in Kansas. Among those stranded are Cherie, a small town nightclub singer, and a love struck cowboy named Bo who struggle over their iffy relationship. Meanwhile café owner Grace and the bus driver explore a long flirtation, as a middle-aged alcoholic with a weakness for inappropriately aged girls sets his sights on a small-town girl named Elma. So goes the setup for "Bus Stop" by William Inge, presented this month by Company of Fools.
Many people will think of the 1956 film of the same name starring Marilyn Monroe, which was filmed north of Ketchum at the North Fork store. Rewritten considerably, the movie is darker and less literate than the play, which in fact has many comedic elements. The great Kim Stanley played the role of Cherie on Broadway, in 1955.
Inge "created a small body of highly theatrical stage literature," Vincent Canby of the New York Times writes. He "dramatized the melancholy, the humor and the unconscious gallantry of commonplace characters. He saw them mostly in economically depressed but sexually charged circumstances."
Born in Kansas in 1913, Inge's best work includes "Come Back, Little Sheba" (1950), "Picnic" (1952), which won him a Pulitzer Prize, the Drama Critics Circle, Outer Circle and the Theatre Club Awards. He also wrote "Bus Stop" (1955), which he adapted for the film, "The Dark at the Top of the Stairs" (1957), as well as the screenplay for the film, "Splendor in the Grass" (1961).
In "Bus Stop," Inge leaves the travelers and locals together for an entire night, a night that by turns is tense, raucous, tender and entertaining.
"Anyone who knows a small town knows this," said Jana Arnold, who plays the warm and salty Grace. "The play is better than the movie. No one leaves the diner unchanged when the sun comes up."
Director John Glenn calls the play, "a clean slice of Americana," with "dreams, dilemmas and love. It's like a mid-winter's night dream where the bus stop becomes the magical shift. I find it charming. We were initially interested in doing it since it was the 50th anniversary of the movie."
Along with the rest of the Company of Fools brain trust, Glenn realized the play was more than just a Sun Valley nostalgia piece. "These people are on this journey. It's touching."
Bo and Cherie, of course, are the focus of the play. Cherie can't help it. She's been forced on this trip by an oblivious Bo, who is dragging her to Montana to meet his parents before they wed, even though she insists she has no intention of doing so. As played by a blonde bewigged Anna Johnson, she's a slim, not very bright "chant-ooze" who during an impromptu talent show belts out the signature tune, "That Old Black Magic," accidentally proving she doesn't have much.
"I moved here from Virginia not even knowing where Idaho was on the map," Johnson said. "I'm able to go back to that place where you don't know where you are or where you're going, and you have decisions to make. I'm learning something new about myself every day."
Jim Remke, as Bo the macho cowpoke, brings newly acquired authenticity to the role gained during research in Blaine County at the Rendezvous Ranch, the Queens Crown Ranch and trail riding to, no doubt, gain that Wranglers-adorned, gangly, open-kneed walk so common to cowboys.
But it's Karl Nordstom, a graduate of the Wood River Valley with an MFA in Theater from University of Idaho, who really nails a take on the play.
"It'll remind old timers of slack season," he said. "I hear stories from people who've lived here forever about their meeting places like the Western Café (in Ketchum) and the Hearthstone (in Hailey) where they had their coffee together every day. People who don't go to the theater normally will enjoy it from that point of view. It'll remind them of those days."
Though the play is fine for all ages, Glenn said it will be most enjoyable for people 13 and older.
When you arrive in Hailey, put your brakes on at the Liberty Theatre for a snowy and touching night of theater.
- By William Inge, directed by John Glenn, set by Hugh Coleman, and designed by John Glenn and Denis Rexroad. Costumes by Coleen McDuffie, lighting by Genny Wynn, wig design by Bernie Ardia.
- Presented by Company of Fools, Liberty Theatre, Hailey.
- Dec. 13-31, 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays.
-Tickets: $25 reserved, $18 students, and seniors.
10 seats are sold for $10 each daily. Inquire about holiday package for families. Box office: 578-9122
- CAST Anna Johnson (Cherie), Jana Arnold (Grace Hoylard), Sharon Barto (Elma Duckworth), Max Vogler (Dr. Gerald Lyman), Jim Remke (Bo Decker), Joe Lavigne (Carl), Andrew Alburger (Virgil Blessing) and Karl Nordstrom (Will Masters).