While some folks are drawn to the sparkle of a new show — "Hamilton," "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts 1 and 2," "Dear Evan Hansen," etc. — there is something to be said for the plays that endure. One such work, "Bus Stop," takes the stage this weekend at The Empty Space.
Director Bob Kempf, known for fresh takes on Shakespeare and other enduring works, turns his craft to this 1955 William Inge play about bus passengers and workers stranded in a diner in rural Kansas during a snowstorm.
"It's an American classic, and I enjoy bringing such plays to a new audience," Kempf wrote in an email. "Also, it has an interesting balance between drama and comedy."
Like many classics, the relatable storytelling keeps audiences coming back.
"The human experience hasn't changed much over the years, even the centuries," he said. "While the play in set in 1955, these are relatable characters still, as they look for love and understanding."
And there are a number of entanglements among the five stranded when their bus can't proceed during the freak snowstorm. Singer Cherie (Ellie Sivesind) has been taken somewhat against her will by naive cowboy Bo (Carlos Vera), who wants to marry her. Bus driver Carl (Jared Cantrell) has a casual understanding with diner owner Grace (Cory Guertsen). Her waitress, Elma (Victoria Lusk) catches the eye of Dr. Gerald Lyman (Daniel Korth), one of the passengers who has an issue with authority and a penchant for young women.
Some of this may sound familiar to Marilyn Monroe fans since the actress starred in the 1956 film of the same name loosely based on the play. Kempf said the play is far more adult in nature than the movie, which plays up a little more comedy.
"The movie eliminates one major character (Dr. Lyman), and his story is difficult and unsettling, probably more so today than back in '55," Kempf said. "This subplot is handled with sensitivity by the playwright, but still isn't easy to witness."
Of course, as in life, there are light moments, including the impromptu talent show, which the director said is "entertaining in both good and bad ways."
Although he makes it clear he's not much into philosophizing, Kempf said there's something for audiences to pick up from this "Stop."
"Sometimes there will be a bump in the road of life, such as the snowstorm that interrupts this bus trip, and it may bring something unexpected and wonderful."