What happens when a diverse group of strangers becomes stranded in a small town diner — with no iPods, cell phones or tablets to help them avoid interacting?
Let’s just say things are bound to get a little awkward as the Langley Players step back in time with the character-driven tale, Bus Stop, by William Inge.
Set in a road-side Kansas diner during a snow storm, Bus Stop finds a group of very different people struggling to connect.
The unlikely ensemble of characters — which includes a pair of cowboys, a school girl/waitress, a philosophy professor, a sheriff, an aspiring lounge singer, a bus driver and the diner’s owner, a “grass widow” named Grace — are faced with making some serious life decisions as they wait out the storm.
Bus Stop was first staged in 1955 — a year perched between the perceived age of innocence and the new world of the 1960s which was about to unfold.
But what appeared at first to Langley Players’ Helen Embury, as a bit of a dated story gradually grew on her with its “honest charm.”
“It became clear this piece was still fresh, the characters are still real and interesting and their stories are still relevant today,” said the director.
“I am constantly looking for quality material that will fit on our intimate stage and entertain our audiences.”
And with its character-driven focus, Bus Stop is ideal for the Langley Players’ small space, she added.
The only other issue Embury had with the script was that it was divided into three acts. Once she devised a way to adapt Bus Stop into a two-act play, any objections she’d had vanished.
Because the production is set in a small Midwestern American town during the 1950s, the dialogue includes colloquialisms and language that is specific to the time and place, said Embury. But it was important to her to respect those details within the larger context of the story.
“The theme of people wanting to connect with others — the need to be loved and appreciated — these things are universal,” she said.
“And Inge certainly was a writer who knew and admired women. His female characters are among his best. When Cherie (South Surrey’s Sarah Green) lists the qualities she is looking for in a husband, I am sure every woman in the audience will be thinking, ‘You are so right,’” said Embury.
“And I’m sure the men in the audience will be sympathetic to Bo (Langley native and current Chilliwack resident Darcy Knopp) when he says it’s difficult to understand women ‘because they are different from men.’”
When it came time to cast the show, Embury — as she does — had a fairly clear picture in her mind of how her characters would appear.
“I always begin the audition process with a visual idea of what the characters will look like — and I always change my mind during auditions,” she said.
“It is most important the actors be able to play the characters fully and honestly. That takes skill and commitment — and we have plenty of both in our cast,” she added.
Among the eight performers Embury cast is a combination of experienced and new actors. Some are professionals, others have honed their craft in community theatre.
“The magic of theatre is watching actors of different ages and different backgrounds bond together to tell a universal story all can relate to,” Embury said.
The director is also quick to point out that beyond the performers the audience sees on stage, there is a veritable army of people involved behind the scenes of each production.
“There has been a large design team working for the past two months to create the world of 1955 and Grace’s Diner — from set design and decoration to lighting and sound design as well as props and wardrobe,” she said.
Bus Stop runs Jan. 23 to Feb. 22 at Langley Playhouse 4307 200 St.
Shows start at 8 p.m. each Thursday through Saturday; Sunday matinees start at 2 p.m.
Audience members are advised to arrive a half hour before show time.
Admission is $15, payment by cash or cheque only.
For more information about the production visit langleyplayers.com.