On the face of it, a play about growing up gay in small town America in the early 80s sounds like it might be a bit grim – a little too sincere, a little past its best-by date. But it’s not possible for all of the stories to have been told (Between proved that nicely), and while those of us in the capitol may be blessed by living in an environment where discussing being a gay teenager seems very last decade (is anyone still bothered by this? – yes, very much so outside of big cities), it is a topic that, even more than AIDS, captures the reality of being young and gay. James Lantz had a story he wanted to tell about growing up gay in small-town America; and The Bus, currently playing at the Above the Stag theater, is that story.
On the face of it, The Bus is about the fight Harry DeForge (Matt Ian Kelly), the owner of a small town service station, has with the local, big-box evangelical church over their decision to use his lot as a place to advertise their services for free (by parking their bus there). But it’s far more about his son Ian (William Ross-Fawcett)’s developing relationship with Jordan (Kane John Scott, yum!), which takes place in an environment that’s a soup of hormones, religion, and conformity. There’s a few sub-plots – including Ian’s attempt to reconcile with his dad and the back story of Harry’s split with Ian’s mom (Katharine Jee) … but the compelling moments were all between Ian and Jordan, as they tried to work out how they felt about each other and what these feelings meant for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately I found the rest of the play too stiff to be believable. Ian Dring was too, too loud as mechanic Sloat; Katharine Jee wasn’t able to sell her religious belief; and Alexandra Vincent just had too many roles to get them all right. And over everything was a layer of corny Southern accents that didn’t really work for me (especially for Kelly, who sounded like he’d grown up in the Bronx). I realize I saw a preview performance and that some softening may have taken place over time; but I don’t think this script was going to be compelling for me. There are new stories to be told and I would have preferred the effort had been put into a show that looked more at what was going on in 2014 rather than spending so much time in a small-town past driven by narrative imperative rather than naturalistic story telling. Ah well.
(This review is for a preview performance that took place on Wednesday, October 22, 2014. It continues through November 22nd. Director’s note: TIRES not TYRES.)