A quarter of a century ago this very month I was a busy man. Not only was I learning to function as a single parent, I was also a full-time school principal and in my spare time trying to earn pin money as a freelance journalist. I had articles appearing fairly regularly in a handful of national genealogical and historical magazines, and my newspaper genealogy column, "Rootbound in the Hills" was in its fourth year of publication and appearing in several local newspapers.
The largest newspaper carrying "Rootbound" was the Neosho Daily News, and Neosho also happened to be where we resided at that time. One afternoon as I was dropping off the next week's column, I approached Anne Cope, the editor of the Daily News and told her that I was planning on attending a dress rehearsal of the local community college's production of William Inge's classic American play, Bus Stop. Would she, I asked, be interested in a review of that production? Anne knew that I could write, but she still expressed a bit of caution, noting that the newspaper made an effort to treat all local endeavors in a positive manner. I assured her that I liked this particular theatre troupe and would not be penning a hatchet piece.
(Full disclosure: Many people in the Crowder theatre department were friends of mine. My young son, Tim, and I had recently been in their production of "Our Town," and the group subsequently went on to produce a play, "Love Among the Armadillos," that I had written.)
A day or two later I submitted the piece which follows. Not only was it printed word-for-word as originally written, it was featured on the front page, and the entire review was placed on a blue background allowing it to stand out from the rest of the day's news. I guess Anne liked it.
Recently, again while sorting treasure in the garage, I came across that old newspaper. I am reprinting the review here as a way to preserve it for future enjoyment. I'm sure I'll want to read it again when I get old!
(April 25th, 1991)
The Crowder troupe, coming off an impressive season which included "Our Town," "The Magician's Nephew," and "Nunsense," will enhance their already formidable reputation with this production because it is, in a word, exceptional!
The story unfolds in Grace's cafe, a well-kept and decidedly small-town eatery that serves as a bus stop on the highway between Kansas City and Topeka. The late bus arrives, only to be greeted with the news that the roads have been closed by snow and probably wont open until morning. As the night swirls on, passengers and locals mingle, and in the process several tales are told.
All of the cast are veterans of previous Crowder productions with two exceptions. Glen Heffner, a freshman from Monett, makes his debut performance as Will Masters, the local lawman. The other newcomer is Curt Gilstrap, a Neosho High School senior who portrays Bo Decker, the lovesick cowboy who can't understand the subtlety of romance. One of the more intense moments of the show occurs when these two young men enter into a physical confrontation on the stage. Their characters, and the action, are well defined and believable.
Grace, the proprietress, is played by Regina DeGroat, and Richelle Sink is her inquisitive and trusting waitress, Elma. The worldliness of the former contrasts nicely with the innocence of the latter, giving both actresses good opportunity to show their abilities - and they do it well.
Mike Slawter, another regular of the group, brings Virgil Blessing to life. Mike's character has the very difficult task of keeping Bo reined in and headed toward maturity. And the teacher even gets into the act. David Sherlock, drama instructor at Crowder, tackles the role of Carl, the bus driver. His performance is first-rate and definitely not a surprise to anyone who saw his earlier work in "A Walk in the Woods."
Every show has its moments, and many of the most memorable ones in this version of "Bus Stop" come from Jonathan Peck and Jana Wilson. Peck, as the eloquent and increasingly drunk Professor Lyman, shows an astounding range of ability as his character bounces from levity to pathos and back again. The "Romeo and Juliette" scene which he shares with Richelle Sink is absolutely mesmerizing.
Jana Wilson is consistent - consistently great! Wilson brings an electric intensity to any role she tackles. Her Cherie, the nightclub singer whose brass has begun to tarnish, would make what's-her-name from the movie version sit up and take notice. The role was made for Jana. She knows it and she shows it.
The success of any dramatic endeavor rests with the director. This play works. Thank you, Rebecca Daniel!
Ike and Mamie are gone, as is Marilyn. And the Edgewood Drive-In has long since fallen beneath the bulldozer's blade. But "Bus Stop" lives on. It's great literature, it's Americana, and it's at Crowder College this weekend.