If director Mario Lescot had paid as much attention to detail with his cast as designer Joe Koonce and Extended Visions paid to the show's splendidly specific set and effective atmospheric lighting designs, his production wouldn't be as blocked as the roadway that stops the characters in this famed William Inge drama. As it is, though, while the play's dramatic obstacles hold the characters back, the production's obstacles likewise keep the actors from making necessary decisions and moving forward to fulfill them.
A wild March storm strands bus driver Carl (Jeff Smith) and his passengers at Grace's Diner, a tired Midwestern coffee shop smack-dab in the middle of the bus route to Topeka. On board are Dr. Lyman (David Rousseve), an alcoholic English professor with a penchant for sweet young things like the diner's waitress, Elma (Shannon Hunt); a frisky young cowboy named Bo (P.J. Agnew), who became so smitten with Cherie (Lorianne Hill), a chanteuse he met in Kansas City, that he's stealing her away to his Montana ranch, and Bo's mild-mannered pal, Virgil (Jack Messenger). In addition to Elma, the group is met at the diner by its owner, Grace (Suzie Kane) and the town's easygoing sheriff, Will (William Forant).
There are numerous Acting 101 missteps here. The door blows open, and if people react at all to the startling burst of cold it is with a minimal shiver. Cherie, still in her skimpy nightclub outfit, frequently wanders outside to the bathroom as unconcerned about the weather as if it were a balmy summer evening (and occasionally without her coat). Hot coffee cups are held like glasses of water (and it is clearly water in the coffee pot, too). Several actors, particularly Rousseve, drop the ends of their lines and are hard to hear. Messenger, who evidently doesn't play guitar, seems to have learned enough to play the one verse or so of a song that's required, but the rest of the time dully strums the strings as if he hasn't a clue about what he's doing. He hasn't committed himself to that part of his character, and the aimlessness shows. There are more such instances, but you get the picture.
Commitment is a problem on a bigger level, too. Agnew holds back from the physically overwhelming side of Bo's character, making his threat of violence against Cherie devoid of impact. His boisterous side is also unexplored. This guy is all brash ego and energy when we first meet him, and Agnew needs to not only take it up a notch but also really commit to these personae. He does much better toward the end, when Bo has been humbled a bit by Will. Hunt, however, has enough charm and sparkle as Elma to divert attention whenever the show stutters. She is confident, honest, and in the moment every moment. That kind of commitment and detail work shines through every time.
"Bus Stop," presented by and at the Theatre District at the Cast, 804 N. El Centro, Hollywood. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. (Sun. June 3 & 24, 2 p.m.). May 11-June 24. $15-20. (323) 957-2343.