Terry Veal was a young college theater student the first time he read Bus Stop. He immediately fell in love with it. Veal finally gets his first opportunity to direct the play this month, as Jewel Box Theatre debuts its version of the production Thursday through March 26 at its downtown venue, 3700 N. Walker Ave.
Bus Stop was written by William Inge, who died in 1973 as one of America’s most talented and prolific playwrights. Some of his other notable works include Pulitzer Prize-winning Picnic, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs and the screenplay for Splendor in the Grass, which won him an Academy Award.
Inge was sometimes called the Playwright of the Midwest for his accurate portrayals of inland small towns and the people who live there.
“I think [Inge’s] characters are so interesting and have so many levels to them,” Veal said. “I like that a lot. To get to dig into those characters and find out those things that have been going on in their lives and why they are the way they are — that’s what we love about theater.”
Bus Stop in particular is a strong character study. In the romantic comedy, occupants of a bus are stranded in the wee hours of the morning at a small-town diner due to a massive snowstorm.
Several romantic relationships — all with different characteristics and dynamics — spark between different character pairings.
Veal said the play is a look into different types of love and relationships and audience members relate their experiences to what they see onstage.
Couples featured in the production include young and inexperienced former orphan Bo Decker (played by Craig Musser) and experienced, well-traveled Cherie (Claudia Fain); strong-willed alcoholic college professor Dr. Gerald Lyman (Rob May) and teenage waitress Elma Duckworth (Alix Golden); and bus driver Carl with Grace Hoylard (Deborah Franklin), the diner owner whose previous encounters with Carl have been more lust than love.
Other characters include the tough, righteous sheriff Will Masters (Larry Harris) and Virgil Blessing (Chris Crane), an older cowboy who acted as Decker’s childhood caretaker.
Veal said he is fortunate to have a strong cast and a stellar group of behind-the-scenes contributors, including costumer Jeffrey Meek and head of props Sheila Sewell. Both were tasked with giving Bus Stop a distinctly 1950s feel.
“This group has really come together, and we’re getting along and having a great time,” he said. “That’s part of it, too. That’s the process. People think you get in there one day and it’s all there. No; it takes four to five weeks to get all this stuff put together. I think people forget that.”
Veal said the show should take audiences through a range of emotions and leave them with something worth contemplating long after the curtains close.
“There’s some lines that really are touching and very telling of who we are as people,” he said. “Those are throughout, so there’s something for everyone.”
8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and March 23-25, 2:30 p.m. Sunday and March 26
Jewel Box Theatre, 3700 N. Walker Ave.
Print headline: Love notes, Bus Stop takes a closer look at relationships.