Abilene Christian’s “Bus Stop,” a modern-day Hallmark movie on stage

Gary Varner is retired. But as Adam Hester, a recently retired professor from Abilene Christian University, finds out, it’s hard to stay that way.

Varner directed “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” for the 2021 Abilene Shakespeare Festival, then stepped in last fall to direct “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for the ACU’s comeback musical when the first director failed. couldn’t make it to Abilene to do the show.

And he’s back for “Bus Stop,” William Inge’s classic work that remains a theater favorite nearly 70 years after its Broadway release.

The show is not taking place at the Fulks Theater at the Williams Performing Arts Center on campus, but in the comfortable black box setting of the Culp Theater.

Cherie (Riley Riley) looks up at Bo, commenting to waitress Elma (Anna Grygier) on how good her cowboy looks in this rehearsal scene from "Bus stop."

Participants will be seated on three sides of the set and slightly above the interior of a restaurant. It’s an intimate room about relationships, Varner said, and the seating allows the audience to be at the table covered in red and white checkered cloth, with bottles of ketchup and mustard, watching everything. what is happening.

The setting is a small town near Kansas City. A blizzard has grounded bus travelers heading to Wichita, and that’s where the romance begins to cook. Some of this simmers, but the relationship between Bo, a handsome cowboy, and Cherie boils over.

They met in Kansas City, where she was a nightclub singer. He takes her to Montana to marry her because they have been intimate.

Inge was born in Independence, Kansas, and her work reflects the characters and characteristics of Midwesterners.

His other notable works include “Picnic” and the Pulitzer-winning “Come Back, Little Sheba.” His first work was “Farther Off from Heaven”, with the help of Tennessee Williams.

Varner compares Inge to current Tulsa-born playwright Tracy Letts, whose “August: Osage County” won a Pulitzer and was performed locally at the Paramount Theater.

“He writes about the Midwest,” he said of Letts. D’Inge, “He wrote about what he knew, which was Kansas and Missouri.”

“Bus Stop” was written at a time when America was between World War II and the Vietnam War, but still dealt with the Korean War, the nuclear threat that sparked the Cold War, and racial unrest. regarding education in the United States.

“He said people needed a break. He wanted to have a life-affirming show,” Varner said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”

There is tension, yes, but there is also fulfillment.

“It’s this wonderful story of all these people trying to find love,” Varner said. “They have very strange ways of doing it.”

Take Bo Decker, who is 21 and owns a ranch in Montana. He travels to Kansas City and meets Cherisse, whom he calls “Cherie” because he cannot pronounce her full name.

“He falls in love with her and decides he’s going to take her back and get married,” Varner said.

Cherie is 19 but had to grow up fast, finding work in a nightclub as a singer.

“These are two young people who know nothing about love and are trying to figure it out,” he said. Cherie doesn’t want to go to Montana, “but she doesn’t know how to tell him no because he’s so energetic.”

And beautiful, she confesses to a waitress at the restaurant.

Enter the local sheriff, who tells Cherie he will help her. This, of course, thickens the emotional soup at dinner.

The bus driver and cafe owner have an ongoing relationship, and a passenger who has been married three times flirts with the waitress. He has a flask in his coat pocket and enriches his dinner drink.

Cherie (Riley Riley) looks up at Bo, commenting to waitress Elma (Anna Grygier) on how good her cowboy looks in this rehearsal scene from "Bus stop."

“He’s the sad character on the show. He gave up on love,” Varner said. “He can’t find it.”

And Bo and fellow traveler Virgil, who brings his guitar, are at odds over Cherie. Virgil has been a father figure to Bo, “who wants to be a man because that’s how he was raised. He’s a cowboy. But then you start to see the softer side. “

Virgil (Marco Perez), Bo's mentor and traveling companion, strums the guitar as another passenger chats with the counter girl in this rehearsal scene from

What Varner loves most is how the story is so well written, which is why it remains popular and timeless today.

“Inge is a master at putting it all together,” he said. “It’s a pleasure to work on something so well designed.”

“Bus Stop” was made into a movie in 1956 and starred Marilyn Monroe as Cherie. She was noted for taking on a more serious role.

Varner said it was an early take on today’s popular Hallmark movies that focus on relationships.

“He was before his time,” he said of Inge. “You get into the third act and the audience is yearning for these two people to come together. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”

Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you enjoy local news, you can support local reporters with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.

If you are going to

What: “Bus Stop,” Abilene Christian’s two-weekend drama

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and April 22-23

Or: Culp Theatre, Williams Performing Arts Center on campus

Tickets: $25 person, free place. There is a dinner show (6:15 p.m.) on April 23, priced at $50 per person. A discussion is scheduled for April 22.

To note: This show is recommended for theatergoers aged 10 and over

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