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The Bus

James Lantz's quietly affecting play centers on a pair of gay teenagers in a small middle-American town.

Will Roland and Bryan Fitzgerald in The Bus
(© Carol Rosegg)
There aren't a lot of places gay teenagers Jordan (Bryan Fitzgerald) and Ian (Will Roland) can go in their small middle-American town without being discovered. And the one refuge that they have found becomes a battleground in James Lantz's quietly affecting play, The Bus, making its New York premiere at 59E59 Theaters.

Ian's father Harry (Travis Mitchell) owns a gas station on which the play's titular bus sits. There was possibly some agreement when he first bought the property that he would allow the vehicle to always stay there, as it serves as a road marker that directs people to the church up the hill, Golden Rule Bible Fellowship. However, after years of allowing it to sit idle, Harry decides its time for the bus to go. But he underestimates the influence Golden Rule has on the community, and what a boycott could do to Harry's business.

Ian has a more complicated relationship to the bus. While it serves as his and Jordan's secret rendezvous spot, he's also keenly aware that it is property of the church that he and his mother Sarah (Kerry McGann) attend. And while he doesn't get to see his Dad very often since Harry and Sarah divorced, Ian feels loyalty to him, and wants to help. Yet, his attempt to do so makes the situation even worse.

There's more than a hint of Thornton Wilder's Our Town in Lantz's playwriting style. A character known as The Little Girl (Julia Lawler) serves the Stage Manager function within The Bus, setting up the various scenes and making additional commentary. But while the homage occasionally works, it's a little too self-consciously constructed to be completely effective.

Fitzgerald delivers a terrific performance, with subtle shadings of emotion that flash across his face at key moments. Roland is not quite as nuanced, but is still able to convey his character's conflicted feelings. The two actors work well with one another, and play their lovemaking scenes with just the right combination of awkwardness and affection.

Mitchell finds the right balance between aggression and reserve in his portrayal, and is particularly good in the play's final scene, wherein Harry unfolds a revelation that makes his motivations within the play much clearer. Robert Nuner does fine work as Sloat, Harry's assistant, who becomes increasingly worried about his employer's behavior. Unfortunately, McGann pushes a bit too hard, seemingly commenting upon her character more than she inhabits it.

Director John Simpkins manages to maneuver his actors in and out of the intimate, in-the-round playing area in an efficient manner. He is aided in this task by set designer Michael Schweikardt, who is able to suggest several different environments with a minimum of set pieces.

Certain moments within the play threaten to devolve into melodrama, but Simpkins knows when to pull his actors back, and encourage quiet, simple movements and manners of speech as a counterpoint to the highly charged emotions that the characters are experiencing.