Another new theater has opened in Chicago. This one, named The Den, is not an actual Storefront, but more of a “loft theater” ,located on a second floor ( not handicap accessible, yet) in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Going up the long staircase, we had no idea what we might see upon our arrival. What a wonderful surprise- a lobby area that was homey and comfortable andthen when the “doors opened”( there is in fact a curtain, not doors, but the term still works) we found a marvelous place to see a play. Comfortable seats with great sight-lines and a stage area that had a little more depth than normal but worked just fine for this new theater company’s first ever production, William Inge’s “Bus Stop”. This is not a play that many new companies would even want to consider to start their enterprise, but co-directors Ryan Martin and Lia Mortensen were up to the task.
For those unfamiliar with this classic tale of loneliness and the quest to feel needed by others; the need to give love and be loved and matter to those whose paths you cross. Everyone has, for the most part, this need, this desire and Inge is able to capture the many ways that it can be expressed in this story about a little Kansas diner/bus stop along the road from Missouri to Montana and points west. Those who have taken any long bus rides know that along the way, the driver must make rest stops so passengers can get something to eat, stretch their legs or use a facility ( this play was written before our new luxury busses were built). On this day, there is a snopw and wind storm that closes the roads and so when the bus stops at Grace’s Diner, they will be there for more than the normal “rest period”.
The diner ( set designed by Caleb McAndrew) looks very much like a small town little diner might and the furniture and props (Aimee Plant) are wonderful and very realistic. The lighting by Elizabeth M. Patterson was very adequate in that this is an old building and a new electrical need, so I am sure there was a lot of extra effort put into converting a computer shop to a theater. Stefin Steberl’s costumes were very 50’s with the exception of the jeans that Bo wears ( very 2010) and some of the boots looked newer as well. Again, this is a new company in a new venue and of greatest importance on their part was opening on time and giving the audiences who come the best show possible. The cast was very up to the task of making us feel as if we were in fact thaqt “fly on the wall” observing these characters: Grace ( Liz Zweifler) the diner owner who lives upstairs andhas her own little lonely secrets since her husbandleft. Elma ( deftly handled by Elise Walter) the teen waitress who wants to find love and almost does so in all the wrong places and then there is Will ( a fine job by Ed Smaron),the local sheriff who has his church and job to keep him company. These are the locals and then the bus comes in and with it, the driver Carl ( Karl Pothoff) who may or may not have a life away from the bus, but who has needs that are just as powerful as Grace’s. The first to enter the diner is Cherie ( the very sexy Arianne Ellison taking on the role that Marilyn Monroe brought to the big screen) who has been grabbed by a young cowboy, Bo ( Brian Kavanaughbrings a lot of energy to this role as well as the cockiness that makes him stand out from the other rodeo riders that visited the club where Cherie sang) so that he can bring her to his Montana Ranch and marry her. She wants nothing to do with him and his pal Virgil ( played with just the right softness by Will Kinnear). The last passenger on the bus is Dr. Lyman ( Ron Wells who plays the drunk to perfection) a man of high education but as Inge puts it, “very little intelligence” who has been married several times and keeps losing positions at the schools who hire him
This is quite an assortment of characters with background that are as different as night and day, but in watching this story unfold we see that they all are missing something and Inge brings this out with pitch perfect clarity , making some of the stories reach their quest and others learn to make the adjustments they need to in order to go forward in life. The ending is one of happiness andsadness a we see some characters find their quest can be conquered and others make the needed adjustments to either grow or just exist. The Den Theatre Company should be very proud of the work they are presenting and hopefully theater-goers will take the trip and help this young and talented group gain momentum.
“Bus Stop” will continue at The Den Theater located at 1333 N. Milwaukee Avenue ( second floor) through January 22nd with performances as follows:
Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m.- Sundays at 3 p.m.
NO PERFORMANCES 12/23, 12/24,12/25,12/26 and 12/31 as well as January 1 2011 Enjoy the holidays
Tickets are $20 with reservations and $25 at the door ( a great value). To reserve tickets call 773-398-7028 or online
metered parking ( until 9 p.m.) on Milwaukee Avenue is pretty easy to find