Three thought provoking plays to wet your appetitie, Speed the Plow, Bus Stop & The Legendary Stardust Boys!

In William Inge's "Bus Stop", Love finds a convoluted but promising opportunity on the road to Topika!

The Role Players Ensemble Theatre in Danville is currently presenting a truly delightful and fun-filled, highly entertaining production of William Inge’s comic love story, “Bus Stop”. Under the direction of Dana Anderson, this deeply touching story of two people, a nightclub entertainer and a naïve but headstrong cowboy, find love on a cold and lonely night while snowbound in a little Kansas bus stop. It’s funny, it’s poignant, and it’s heartwarming .

When Inge’s play opened on Broadway on March 2nd 1955, it became an instant overnight commercial and critical success. Inge became famous for his first major Broadway success starting in 1950, with “Come Back Little Sheba”, for which he was named “most promising new playwright”. His close personal relationship with Tennessee Williams and his broad diversity in differing jobs gave him real life experiences to draw from in creating his deeply resonating characters. In 1953, “Picnic” won him a Pulitzer prize and the Drama Critics Circle Award. In 1956, Twentieth Century Fox Studios produced a movie by the same name, starring Marilyn Monroe as the sexy, other-than-worldly, less than talented night-club entertainer, Cherie, working in a low class bar near the stockyards. Don Murray portrayed Bo, the rowdy, love-struck cowboy. The movie was as much a success as the play.

Inge’s focus on the main couple—the nightclub entertainer, Cherie, and the brash cowboy, Bo—inspired more controversy. Many professional critics wrote as the play opened on Broadway, that the other six characters in the play remained undeveloped and failed to hold the audience’s attention or sympathy. Inge reasserted his hope that the audience would be interested in every character. Inge’s aim was to portray the full spectrum of romantic relationships, from positive to negative, in his work. I totally disagree with most of the earlier critics, feeling that the other characters were developed as much as necessary, in fact, just enough to make you care about them, while not over-shadowing the two main characters.

The story opens in a small bus stop restaurant, late in the evening with a frigid blustery snow storm brewing outside. Restaurant and bus stop owner, Grace (played by Bonnie DeChant) and employee, Elma Duckworth ,are waiting for the last bus expected to pull in to their stop. The two ladies are discussing the possibility that the rest stop restaurant may have to stay open later than normal, because road conditions may force the bus driver to “hole up” there until the roads are cleared further on towards Topica, Kansas. The local sheriff, Will Masters (Tim Biglow), drops in on what he expects to be a quiet, non-eventful evening, but which turns out to be quite otherwise.

When the bus finally pulls in, bus driver, Carl, immediately pops in, warning the sheriff that there is a young cowboy on the bus who has brought an attractive young lady with him from Phoenix, who apparently is not traveling with him voluntarily. Following shortly behind the driver, Cherie (Ginny Wehrmeister), rushes into the restaurant with her little travel bag in hand, frantically asking where she can hide, proclaiming that there is a young cowboy on the bus who is at the moment still asleep, but who has all but kidnapped her, wanting to take her with him to his ranch in Montana where he intends to marry her!

When she learns from Grace that the Bus may have to stay in the restaurant for hours, waiting for the storm to subside, she asks Grace to hide her suitcase behind the counter, explaining that when it is time for the bus to leave, she will simply refuse to re-board the bus. A short time later, the young cowboy, Bo Decker (Christopher Ratti), his ranch hand friend, mentor, and best friend, Virgil Blessing (Michael Markovitch), stumble into the restaurant, shaking the sleep from their eyes. Bo accosts Cherie verbally for leaving him sleeping on the bus, asking her if “that is anyway to treat the man who loves her.”

Other passengers each have their own interesting stories that are subliminally revealed as the night progresses. Professor Gerald Lyman (played by Chris Chapman), is an acadamian with a checkered past, a bigger-than-life ego, a bottle of scotch hidden in his inside coat pocket, and a true disdain for authority figures.

Over the course of the evening, the cafe owner, Grace, and the bus driver, Carl, explore a long-overdue friendship; a middle-aged scholar, Professor Lyman, faces his past; and a small-town girl, Elma Duckworth, gets her first taste of romance. The play allows us to go home with a positive spin, a hope for a better tomorrow as each of the characters seem to move on in their comfortably lackluster lives.

I have always loved this play, and my love for it was truly re-kindled with this absolutely superb production, under the astute and inspired collaboration between director Dana Anderson and this brilliant cast. Each and every actor deserves kudos for their sterling performances.
The set designed by Edward Hightower is absolutely perfectly executed!

“Bus Stop” plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 2 p.m., now through February 9th. To purchase tickets Monday-Friday 9am-5pm, call (925) 314-3400. For other show information please call (925) 314-3463or visit the website at and click on Village Theatre Shows. Tickets range between $15 and $25 each. The Theatre is located 233 Front Street in Danville. This is one show that should absolutely not be missed, a true gem at a far better-than-reasonable cost for admission.

The Legendary Stardust Boys make disturbing music in a thought-provoking play!

Onstage Theatre in Pleasant Hill has revived a poignant and thought-provoking play about expectations, attachments and commitments by playwright, D.B. Gilles, entitled, “The Legendary Stardust Boys”. As part of Director Helen Means program to celebrate their company’s 30 years of theatrical productions, she has brought back this play that she co-directed in 1988 with Roberta Tibbits and considers as one of her favorites.

Four guys live and breathe the music of their band, a band called “The Legendary Stardust Boys”. At least, on the surface, that’s the way it seems as they join their bandleader, Leonard “Stosh” Stoshler in the basement of his home to resume practice for an upcoming recording session. This band might be a little difficult for you to relate to, because in this part of the country, polka bands are not exactly in overwhelming demand. But in Akron, Ohio, in the early 1980’s, they were all the rage. All four of these guys are middle-class working guys, who play for the fun of it, and in differing ways, hope for something special to come out of all this work.

As the play opens, Big Stosh (Sal Russo) is listening to a tape recording made on a previous night’s rehearsal. “God we’re good!” Stosh exclaims, totally unaware that Nick ( Eddie Peabody) has entered the basement carrying his accordion case. Stosh doesn’t see or hear him. After setting the accordion case down, Nick tries to capture Stosh’s attention and the bandleader responds, “Hey, Nick, I didn’t hear you come in, - - you’re early”. Big Stosh waves Nick off because he is so wrapped up in analyzing the Monday night recording, looking for any imperfections. Nick’s attempts at recognition and his requests for a private audience, before the other band members arrive, falls on deaf ears. Several interruptions continue to capture Stosh’s attention before Nick can get through to him, when band member Lou Calini (Kim Noblitt) arrives with his brand new banjo. Lou is so excited about his $750 instrument that he has to show it off immediately. Nick again takes a back seat as Al Roskin (Randall Nott), the fourth member of their band arrives, dragging his big base down the basement stairs.

It quickly becomes obvious that Stosh has big dreams and expectations for his little band, and that the recording session coming up next week in a professional recording studio will be the key to the band being launched into unparalleled success. What he doesn’t realize is that his exuberance and child-like faith in his band reaching star-studded fame and fortune, is not fully expected, nor even desired by everyone.

When Nick finally gets a chance to explain to Stosh what it was that he needed to tell him, Stosh is rocked by the news that Nick, the band’s music writer, lyrics composer, and outstanding musician, is planning to get married, which may necessitate his retiring from the band. At this point, a whole lot of verbal fireworks are ignited and before the evening is over, a pyrotechnic protoplasmic eruption of half hidden truths, recriminations, accusations and painful consequences begin to unravel the upbeat plans of this fairly well known regional polka band.

There are a lot of very funny moments and there is a considerable amount of suspense, and at the same time, a lot of shouting, while author D.B. Gilles allows us to experience vicariously, how others might come to have unreasonable expectations and serious pain when those dreams cannot reach fruition. There are some great revelations as to why people choose not to challenge othe’s beliefs, especially if it might upset their “comfort zone”.

I saw this very good production on opening night and while some of the actors were still having a few problems with their lines, it certainly did not contribute to the audience’s discomfort. For the most part, the play moved very well and the actors delivered a quite believable and entertaining performance. By the time you get an opportunity to see this show, the few minor bugs encountered by the actors will probably be dispatched.

“The Legendary Stardust Boys” plays Thursdays (January 24th and 31st.) at 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m., with Sunday performances (on January 27th and February 3rd) at 2:30p.m. and closing on Thursday, February 7th. The Onstage theatre is located at 2050 Oak Park Boulevard in Pleasant Hill, in the “Old School House”. Ticket prices range between a very reasonable $12 and $15 each and reservations can be requested on line by going to and looking under the reserve seats tab or by calling (925) 944-9006. There is plenty of parking in the adjacent parking lot, the seating is very comfortable. This is a small theater, where every seat is a good seat and if you get there a little early, you can have just about any seat you want in the house as this theater employs “open seating”, on a first come, first serve basis. Helen Means always serves free refreshments at the break (although they don’t ask for a donation, I don’t think anyone will get upset if you volunteer one!)

David Mamet's caustic but brilliantly written play, "Speed The Plow", elicits a standing ovation at ACT!

The American Conservatory Theatre (ACT) in San Francisco is currently producing David Mamet’s play, “Speed the Plow”, a very intriguing and highly entertaining production about the process of “Greenlighting” a prospective film from concept to contract, and on to the silver screen. Typical of Mamet’s writing, the characters are ego-centered hucksters, self-promoters, crude, rude and real. David Mamet, the author, wrote in his recent book “Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose and Practice of the Movie Business” that “- - any business is, if not essentially, at least potentially, pillage.”

David Mamet is a scathing, linguistic samurai, whose biting commentaries and gritty verbal embellishments have created landmark novels, plays and movie scripts. His “Tony” nominated and “Pulitzer Prize” winning play, “Glengarry Glen Ross”(1984), and “Oscar” nominated screenplays, “The Verdict” (1982) and “Wag The Dog” (1987), have set him aside as a respected, hated and perhaps, even feared chronicler of our times. The low-life crooks that populate his renowned play “American Buffalo”, shocked Broadway with his clever, terse, and vulgar vocabulary. Desperately scheming real estate salesmen, shown to be utterly devoid of conscience in “Glengarry Glen Ross”, shook off the rose-colored glasses of thousands of uninitiated potential property owners. American businesses have bared their dirty linen in the Mamet laundry.

Unfortunately, for those of us who have floundered on the shoals of corporate infrastructure, we know that what we have feared and suspected, is more than often, true. Ultimately, business intends to serve its own interests and ends first. Thus is the example laid bare by the three main characters in Mamet’s “Speed The Plow”.
“Karen: Is it a good film?
Gould: I’m sorry.
Karen: Is it a good film?
Gould: Well, it’s a commodity --- And I don’t know if it is a good film. “What about Art?” I’m not an artist. Never said I was, and nobody who sits in this chair can be. I’m a businessman.”

In Mamet’s 1987 play about the insidious insider scheming and manipulation of artists, playwrights and film development, not only is Bobby Gould (Matthew Del Negro), a businessman, he is the head of production, the decision maker, the man who holds and manipulates the strings of who does what and where and when in the movie production process for his company, at least, for any film up to but not exceeding 35 million in total costs. Charlie Fox (Andrew Polk), an associate, an underling, who has worked with Gould for twenty years or more in one capacity or another, has brought Gould what appears to be a rare opportunity, a bar of gold on a silver platter. It seems that a major and highly sought after director, Doug Brown, has read a highly evocative script controlled by Charlie Fox and company and see great potential in this prison-buddy film. Director Brown has come to Charlie and wants to direct the film, but he also wants his answer by 10 am tomorrow morning because of other potential commitments. In order to get this box-office bonanza contract deal, Fox has to get his old friend, Gould, to “Greenlight” the production through the studio head, Ross, by tomorrow morning and to deliver contracts for signature by 10 AM. - - - difficult, but not impossible!

Ecstatic about this incredible opportunity, both men begin to beat their drums, salivating over the new prestige and financial rewards such a coup would bring them. “Gould exclaims to Charlie, ”In this sinkhole of slime and depravity, and something is about to work out!”
At the same time, a part-time receptionist, Karen (Jessie Campbell), is commanded to bring coffee into the private office and is forced to endure the men’s self-serving diatribe and misogynistic overtures in her presence. After she leaves the office, the ego-raptors focus salaciously on the attractive young woman and Fox bets Gould (privately) that he cannot get the young woman in bed before tomorrow morning. Gould takes up the glove and calls the young woman back into his office, explains briefly what he does in his job, as respects “greenlighting” the movie making process. He suggests that if she wanted to, she could become part of the “exciting and rewarding” process. All she has to do is to take the afternoon off to read a book that has been suggested as the material for a movie and to come to his home that evening to report on it to him. She does, he does, and the prison film is very nearly lost to history. What transpires is a Mamet masterpiece of greed, sex, and perversity for which Speed the Plow received a Tony nomination and many standing ovations. This is a stellar production in every respect!

Speed the Plow plays Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m., now though February 3, in the American Conservatory Theatre at 415 Geary Street in San Francisco. Tickets can be purchased by calling ACT Ticket Services at 405 Geary Street (at Mason) or by calling (415) 749-2228 or by visiting the website at for more information. Tickets range between $17 and $82 each.