Bus Stop is earnestly presented by NET in a charming, spacious and brightly lit diner. I imagine it could be tempting to mess with a classic, nostalgic tale in some contemporary way, but director Jared Doren opted for a straightforward reprisal. He let his ensemble of local actors find comfort in the nuanced charms of what easily could have been stock characters.
The locals include older waitress and diner owner Grace, winningly played by Christine Dye.
Tess Talbot, a relative newcomer to Cincinnati stages (she interned at Ensemble Theatre last season), is delightful as Elma, a naive high school girl who works for Grace part-time. Among the passengers on the bus is Dr. Gerald Lyman, a learned but dissolute older man (Robert Allen) who takes a liking to Elma. Their re-enactment of a well-known Shakespearean scene is a highlight, and in a short amount of time they move from butchering the scene in their funny, amateur rendition to rendering it extraordinary.
Tyler Alessi, Mindy Heithaus, David Levy, David Roth and Donald Volpenhein round out the ensemble with spirited verve. I was taken though with the smaller gestures: Dye’s wrist flicks when Grace folds towels, Talbot’s repositioning of Elma’s cat-eyed glasses, Allen’s exaggeration of good posture as his Dr. Lyman gets more drunk.
Overall, Bus Stop made me a bit nostalgic for a place and time where you can find moral and ethical guidance from a cowboy or a sheriff or a widow. It did not, however, make me nostalgic for the three-act structure, where the second act mainly serves up backstory.
All in all, this is a good stop in a busy week. “It takes strong men and women to love,” says one character. It also takes strong men and women to make this nearly 60-year-old story feel relevant. NET and this cast have done just that.
BUS STOP, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre at the Aronoff Center’s Fifth Third Bank Theater, continues through Sept. 28.