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A Revival of ‘Bus Stop’ Starring Mary-Louise Parker Opens on Broadway

February 22, 1996 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ She runs into Grace’s Diner, a bleak, Edward Hopper-inspired eating establishment in a small, snow-bound town in Kansas. ``Is there some place I can hide?″ asks the refugee from the storm.

It’s Cherie, the Ozark chanteuse and headliner at the Blue Dragon nightclub in Kansas City _ on the run from an ardent cowboy suitor.

Cherie is one of the American theater’s most endearing creatures, the focal point of William Inge’s ``Bus Stop,″ now being revived by Circle in the Square. And pretty much the one reason to see this production.

More people know the woman from the movie version of the 1955 play which starred an incandescent Marilyn Monroe in what many consider her best role.

It’s a tough act to follow, but Mary-Louise Parker more than holds her own. Wearing a blond wig and a smear of bright red lipstick, Parker sashays sexily around the restaurant. She projects the right amount of sweet vulnerability to make an audience root for the woman in her journey toward true love.

Unfortunately, the play is not as sturdy as its most fully realized character. The seams show, particularly in this slumbering version directed by Josephine Abady, which opened Thursday on Broadway.

Inge had an odd, schizophrenic career on Broadway: besides ``Bus Stop,″ three other hits, ``Come Back, Little Sheba,″ ``Picnic″ and ``The Dark at the Top of the Stairs,″ followed by nothing but flops. He committed suicide at age 60 in 1973.

``Bus Stop″ today seems quaint and obvious, almost like a greeting card in the telegraphing of its sentiments. Inge’s characters offer variations on the quest for love as they pass the time in the diner waiting for a blizzard to subside.

Cherie is just the most obvious _ and interesting. Her relationship with Bo, the Montana cowpoke just in off the range, is flamboyant and funny. Yet Billy Crudup, who scored last season in ``Arcadia,″ doesn’t quite capture the character’s larger-than-life qualities.

Physically, he is small, not much bigger than Parker. That works in capturing Bo’s innocence, but this bronco buster should be able to dominate the proceedings with his brawn. Crudup doesn’t.

More damaging, though, is the arch performance of Ron Perlman as the drunken professor with a fondness for young girls. It rings false _ and irritating. It also lessens the impact of Patricia Dunnock who delivers a touching performance as the mousy waitress who develops a crush on the older man.

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There are good comic turns by Kelly Bishop as Grace, the worldly wise owner of the diner. She, too, is on the lookout for companionship, if not for love. She finds it in Carl, the bus driver, played with crusty precision by Michael Cullen.

There are solid turns by Scott Sowers as the gruff but understanding sheriff and particularly Larry Pine as Bo’s cowboy confidant and the one person who can reason with the young hothead.

Yet despite a big fight scene, splendidly staged by B.H. Barry, the production never catches fire. The pairing off of people is predictable and slow moving. Parker is a consistent pleasure, but for the most part, the action at this ``Bus Stop″ is not worth waiting for.