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Bus Stop First Vehicle of Huntington Season

Inge classic stars alum Noah Bean

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In the slideshow above, Noah Bean (CFA’00) reflects on his character and working with director Nicholas Martin. Audio edited by Susan Seligson. Slideshow by Kimberly Cornuelle. Photos by T. Charles Erickson. Nicholas Martin photo (below) by Larry Murray

Playwright William Inge wrote plays about small-town life, set in America’s heartland. Bus Stop, which he referred to as “a composite picture of varying kinds of love, ranging from the innocent to the depraved,” is one of the Pulitzer Prize–winner’s best known. The dark comedy kicks off the 2010–11 season of the Huntington Theatre Company, in residence at Boston University.

Set in a Kansas diner, where a motley collection of stranded bus travelers and locals takes refuge from a blizzard, Inge’s 1955 play is perhaps best remembered for a somewhat sanitized 1956 film version that served as a star vehicle for Marilyn Monroe. In the hands of Nicholas Martin, a former Huntington artistic director lured back for the project, the play is more of an ensemble production, with BU alumni playing important roles both on stage and off. All of the action, a weave of fleeting romances, flirtations, and predatory obsession, unfolds on a single set, the diner where waitresses Grace and Elma find themselves hosting stragglers from the bus along with a few local characters, hostages to the storm and their own delusions and demons.

“I’m happy to be back at the Huntington,” says Martin (above), artistic director from 2001 to 2008. He “jumped at the chance” to direct the play by Inge, whose best known works include the Pulitzer winner Picnic, The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, and Come Back, Little Sheba. “He is one of a handful of major 20th-century playwrights whose work I have never directed,” says Martin. His long directorial career includes She Loves Me and The Sisters Rosensweig at the Huntington and the 2009 Broadway revival of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, which went on to Broadway from the Huntington. Inge’s characters are “dimensional and full of real feelings, as well as funny, and provide wonderful roles for actors,” he says. Martin attributes his Huntington return in large part to the casting of Noah Bean (CFA’00) as Bus Stop’s Bo Decker, a randy, rambunctious but lovesick and inexperienced cowboy, who tries to force lounge singer Cherie (Nicole Rodenburg) to return with him to Montana as his bride.

“As soon as Noah agreed to play the leading man’s role, I knew I had a winner, and the remainder of the cast is first-rate,” Martin says.

The 32-year-old Bean’s career took off in 2007, when he won the role of Dr. David Connor in the first season of the FX series Damages, starring Glenn Close, who Bean calls an inspiration and mentor. The involvement of Martin, also a great inspiration, convinced Bean to take the part of Bo, he says. He knew that Martin wouldn’t try to update or revamp the play. “Staying true to the play is the most revolutionary thing you can do,” says Bean, who as a BU student worked with the director on a Huntington production of Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost. “Inge’s play is beautiful, and it works.”

Bean’s Damages character is doomed from episode one: a flash-forward to the season’s conclusion shows him stabbed to death in the bathtub and zipped into a body bag. “It was a weird feeling,” he says. Working with Close on the critically acclaimed series taught him how important it is to “be conscious and aware, to make sure you’ve done everything you can do, so when they call, ‘Action,’ or the curtain goes up, you can be free,” says Bean, whose mother coaxed him on stage when he was a child, hoping it would cure his near pathological shyness. The part of Bo is a challenge, he says, because as unappealing as Bo’s behavior might be, he is an innocent at heart, more to be pitied than loathed. Bean is intent on humanizing Bo, but he won’t be drawing on Don Murray’s film performance of Bo. “I don’t like to watch movies of plays I’m going to do,” he says. “It gets stuck in my head, and I just don’t find it helpful. I’d rather find my own interpretation—that’s why we have rehearsal.”

The production also features Huntington veteran Karen MacDonald (CFA’72) in the role of Grace, a seasoned, unapologetically sexual waitress whose gritty wisdom is the glue of the play. Last year Huntington audiences saw MacDonald in All My Sons and A Civil War Christmas. Rounding out the cast are Adam LeFevre as sheriff Will Masters, Will LeBow as Carl the bus driver, Ronete Levenson as wide-eyed teenager Elma, and Stephen Lee Anderson as Bo’s friend rancher Virgil Blessing. Henry Stram portrays the pedophile college professor, Dr. Gerald Lyman, whose predilections are dealt with frankly, in spite of the tendency in the ’50s to treat such material obliquely or not at all.

Bus Stop also taps the talents of sound designer Alex Neumann (CFA’09) and stage manager Leslie Sears (CFA’06). The scenic designer is James Noone, a College of Fine Arts assistant professor of scenic design. For Neumann, the play’s challenge is to convey the ferocity of the storm, the driving force of the play and itself a character. “I’ll choose moments when I can punctuate the action on stage with moments of buildup in the storm,” says Neumann, who uses a variety of recordings of wind and strategically placed speakers, so the wind doesn’t “turn into plain old white noise.”

Bus Stop runs at the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., through Sunday, October 17. Tickets range from $20 to $89 and may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the BU Theatre box office or at the Calderwood Pavilion box office, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., Boston. Patrons 35 and younger may purchase $25 tickets (ID required) for any production, and there is a $5 discount for seniors and military personnel. Student rush tickets are available for $15 at the box office two hours before each performance, and members of the BU community get $10 off (ID required). Members of the BU community are eligible for a special subscription rate. Call 617-266-0800 for more information. Follow the Huntington Theatre Company on Twitter at @huntington.

Susan Seligson can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu. Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @kcornuel.

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