Pitlochry Festival Theatre
3 out of 5
If you read contemporary accounts of mid-20th century American theatre, you routinely see the names of Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and William Inge listed together. The first two are no surprise, but you wonder at the third. In the 1950s, Inge was celebrated for a run of Broadway hits including Come Back Little Sheba and Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and he attracted stars as big as Marilyn Monroe to his film adaptations. Today, he is largely forgotten in the UK.
If Bus Stop is our measure, we can see why. Set in a small-town diner on the night of a snow storm, it is an amiable work, but has none of the majestic ambition – nor the psychological demons – of the playwright's major-league peers.
As the passengers of a Denver-bound bus kill time before the road is cleared, the play works through three parallel stories of sexual attraction. There is the virginal cowboy who has abducted the first Kansas City showgirl he's stumbled across; the landlady taking the chance of a one-night stand with the bus driver; and the elderly Shakespeare scholar with an unhealthy appetite for the teenage waitress. After finding out who the good guys really are, we leave content that the right man got the girl.
The stakes are low, but there is merit in the play's portrayal of the midwest. It captures a hard-working, unsophisticated side of the country that grittier dramas overlook. And while Ken Alexander's production takes a while to convince of its authenticity, the company's wide-eyed charm proves a match for Inge's sweet-tempered vision, leaving us with no masterpiece, but a minor pleasure.
© Mark Fisher 2010
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