Innocence lost, but compassion found, in Beari Productions’ staging of ‘Bus Stop’

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Perhaps the only thing worse than being stuck on a bus for hours and hours is being stuck in a bus stop, on a blizzardy March night, for hours and hours. Such is the fate of the characters in William Inge's surprisingly big-hearted play "Bus Stop," whose 1956 movie version made an even bigger star of Marilyn Monroe, who played Cherie, the dumb, put-upon "chanteuse."

But the story really belongs to Elma Duckworth, the winsome, high-school-aged waitress played by Elizabeth Devlin in Beari Productions' cozy presentation. Though all the characters have much to learn about love and hope, it's Elma who learns the most about the world, and the people in it, by the time the long, stormy night is over.

In a cynical age like ours, the knowledge of sex and unkindness and drunkenness and overall shabbiness would have scarred or disillusioned her. But the play was written in the 1950s, and all her glimpse of the shadow side does to Elma is make her that much more compassionate and even optimistic. And she starts out with such a fund of innocence that the loss of a little bit of it doesn't hurt.

The acting and directing, as is usual for Beari Productions, is stellar. Shana Aborn brings an earthiness to Grace, the owner of the run-down diner/bus stop. She's married, but she and her husband are estranged and she's having an off-and-on thing with Carl the bus driver, played with a nice, ferrety sexiness by Nick Becce.

Nili Resnick, who was a sensational Maria in Beari's 2006 version of "West Side Story," is a sweetly trashy Cherie, and her hilarious tabletop rendition of "That Old Black Magic" is so bad it's good. It is, after all, what got the cowboy Bo to decide to marry her in the first place. Erik Neilssen's young, lonesome cowpoke at first comes across as a boor, until we learn that he's so inexperienced in love that mauling the object of his affection is the only way he knows how to relate to her. Jimmy O'Neill is great as his quiet, level-headed voice of conscience, Virgil Blessing.

O'Neill, along with Rene Bendana, also built the set, a clean but humble place dominated by a lighted clock stuck at five to 12. Amanda Doria, another Beari veteran, handled the lighting and the sound — just the whoosh of the blizzard whenever the diner's door was opened seemed to drop the temperature in the theater a couple of degrees.

Rene Bendana is engaging as the sheriff, whose overall gentleness doesn't prevent him from taking the bumptious Bo down a notch or two.

Devlin gives Elma a sweetness that one doesn't see much anymore — not in teenaged girls anyway. She projects both vulnerability and a certain feminine strength — she'll be fine, in the end. But Peter J. Rowan is brilliant as Prof. Gerald Lyman, the thrice-married, self-hating, alcoholic sad sack who woos Elma with flowery words out of Shakespeare. Our first impression is that he's a creep who shouldn't come anywhere near this virginal young girl. Yet Rowan, who seems at his best when he's playing some unhappy fellow, also eventually engages our pity; his Dr. Lyman also knows he shouldn't be anywhere near virginal young girls, but can't help himself.

Finally, Debbie Bendana directs her charcters with a warm, energetic compassion. "Bus Stop" will be at Trinity Lutheran Church through Oct. 19. In Debbie's words, "Forget about the economy, relax, have a good time, enjoy the show!"

If You Go:

Bus Stop — By William Inge. Presented by Beari Productions. Directed by Debbie Bendana. Starring Shana Aborn, Nick Becce, Rene Bendana, Elizabeth Devlin, Erik Nielssen, Jimmy O'Neill, Nili Resnick and Peter Rowan.

When: Oct. 17 & 18, 8 p.m., Oct. 19, 3:30 p.m.

Where: Trinity Lutheran Church, 63-70 Dry Harbor Rd., Middle Village

Cost: Adults $14, seniors/children under 12 $13. Group rates available

Contact: 718-736-1263

Posted 6:38 pm, October 10, 2011
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