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THEATER REVIEW

Time Trip to Mid-'50s Rings True in 'Bus Stop'

March 19, 1997|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

WESTMINSTER — There is no way to update a play such as William Inge's "Bus Stop," and, at the Westminster Community Theatre, director Lenore Stjerne wisely hasn't tried. The program firmly states: "March, 1955."

Much of Inge's tale--of a naive young cowboy from Montana who wins big at a rodeo in Kansas City and decides to rope himself a bride--could happen today. But it's doubtful if the cowboy himself could.

Forty years ago, television probably hadn't made it out to Bo's isolated ranch, and his knowledge (or lack of knowledge) of the outside world might cause today's audiences to chuckle.

On top of that, Bo is still a puppy, tripping over his feet and wondering why he keeps falling down. The only flaw in newcomer Michael Turner's performance as Bo is a sense in his opening scenes that Bo is more grown-up than he is. His bravura description of rodeo victories (directed to the audience, for no apparent reason) should be the chest-beating of a little boy; instead, it is smug with mature self-satisfaction.

But Turner settles slowly into Bo's confused tantrums and petulant tail-waggings and ends up delivering an ingratiating performance.

Still, the evening really belongs to Lisa Koch as Cherie, the self-styled chanteuse Bo has abducted. Koch has an intriguing comic sense with sharp timing to match, and she embellishes a rounded characterization with furtive glances at the action around her, indicating that Cherie is a little smarter than she may appear. Indeed, this Cherie is always figuring things out, and she really knows how to survive. Koch's rendition of "That Old Black Magic" gives a good indication of why Cherie was working in a cheap bar when Bo found her, and of just how low the bar was.

Though some of her tempos are decidedly slow, Stjerne has gathered a good, workable if fairly pedestrian supporting cast. Barbara Kerek Anzlovar and Deborah Violet Germinaro play well together as Grace, the owner of the highway diner where Bo and Cherie's bus stops, and Elma, her naive high school student waitress. Siavash Hazini is buoyant as Carl, the bus driver who helps Grace relax.

*

Gary Black brings a strong sense of right and wrong to his solid performance as Will, the sheriff who finally pounds some sense into Bo, and Paul Kornrumpf has many touching moments as Bo's friend and mentor Virgil, especially in his final scene. John Bolen has an interesting touch as Dr. Lyman, a former college professor on the lamb for chasing chicken.

It is odd that set designers at this theater seem compelled to use the full length of the stage, which is much too large and open for this production; the action is spread too thin at times. Increasing the intimacy by moving the back wall might have given Stjerne's staging more energy and cohesion.

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* "Bus Stop," Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St. Friday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends April 5. $10-$11. (714) 527-5546. Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Michael Turner: Bo

Lisa Koch: Cherie

Paul Kornrumpf: Virgil

John Bolen: Dr. Lyman

Barbara Kerek Anzlovar: Grace

Gary Black: Will

Deborah Violet Germinaro: Elma

Siavash Hazini: Carl

A Westminster Community Theatre production of a play by William Inge, produced by Jeff Crumley, directed by Lenore Stjerne. Scenic design: Sandi Newcomb, Lenore Stjerne. Lighting design: Mark D Lyen. Costumes: Sandi Newcomb.

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