Review: ‘Bus Stop’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater

Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents Bus Stop, by William Inge. Written in 1955, this production follows a group of strangers who find themselves stranded together overnight after being hit by a blizzard. While most of the dated plotline stands in stark contrast to modern social norms, the need for (and pursuit of) personal connection remains the same. Directed by Eleanore Tapscott, Bus Stop studies different types of relationships that people share: how they form, the stresses that test them, and the things that heal and strengthen bonds.

The cast of Aldersgate Church Community Theater's production of 'Bus Stop.' L-R: John Paul Odle (Bo), Joel Durgavich (Virgil), Emily Golden (Cherie), Richard Isaacs (Carl), Elizabeth Replogle (Grace), Madeline Byrd (Elma), Tom Salmon (Dr. Lyman), and Drew Cannady (Will). Photo by Howard Soroos.
The cast of Aldersgate Church Community Theater’s production of ‘Bus Stop.’ L-R: John Paul Odle (Bo), Joel Durgavich (Virgil), Emily Golden (Cherie), Richard Isaacs (Carl), Elizabeth Replogle (Grace), Madeline Byrd (Elma), Tom Salmon (Dr. Lyman), and Drew Cannady (Will). Photo by Howard Soroos.

“Grace’s Diner,” designed by Matt Liptak, is a detailed time capsule onstage. From the retro furniture and tile countertops to the chalk menu board, it’s clear that we’ve walked into a friendly 1950s diner. Lighting designer Marzanne Claiborne uses dark, dreary blue hues outside the storefront window, and sound designer Alan Wray cues up strong, whistling winds. Together, they create a harsh blizzard that envelops the diner on all sides. Several people find themselves stranded in the diner when it’s announced that the roads are closed due to the storm. It’s a true hodgepodge group; costumer Farrell Hartigan does a fine job dressing the characters to suit their personalities, and from dusty jeans and flannels to finely pressed suits and feather boas, it’s clear that there is a definite array of personalities here.

Amongst those stranded are Grace, the steadfast owner (Elizabeth Replogle), her young, friendly waitress Elma (Madeline Byrd), Carl, the bus driver (Richard Isaacs), and Will Masters, the calm but commanding town sheriff (Drew Cannady). They’re soon joined by Cherie (Emily Golden), a glamorous chanteuse who is, at the moment, worked up into a panic. She is being pursued by a man who is trying to force her into marriage, and begs for refuge and protection. While Cherie composes herself, they meet Dr. Gerald Lyman (Tom Salmon), an intelligent and charming former professor who has a smarmy side and focuses his attention on the very young, naive waitress. Cherie’s pursuer catches up in no time–Bo (John Paul Odle), a young, hotheaded rancher and cowboy, is furious that she has tried to flee, and refuses to leave the diner without her. When the party becomes trapped, tensions rise, secrets are revealed, and friendships are both formed and broken.

This is a dialogue-driven play delivered at a fast pace, so those who are more into action and plot may find it hard to fully engage with this play, which is focused on character development. It’s also an older play, and with it comes some expected stereotypes, but the actors and production crew all do a great job with the material. I particularly enjoyed Joel Durgavich as Virgil, Bo’s trusted sidekick, who is as humble and sweet as Bo is bigheaded and mean. Madeline Byrd is refreshing as Elma–effervescent and idealistic, she tries to make the best of the situation by putting together a variety show, where she performs a scene from Romeo and Juliet while standing on the tile counter. Emily Golden gives perhaps the most memorable performance as Cherie, who has a flair for melodrama and stage presence, but underneath is conflicted, self-doubting, and vulnerable. These characters, all very different from one another, find themselves forced to co-exist in a small space. The result of this is profound and reflective.

Aldersgate Church Community Theater does a great job with Bus Stop. If what you’re looking for is a night of old-timey, welcoming charm, then this is a must-see for you.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Bus Stop plays through April 14, 2019, at Aldersgate Church, 1301 Collingwood Road,
Alexandria, VA. Purchase your tickets online.