Left in Idle

Written by Mark Peikert on . Posted in Posts, Theater.

After 15 years, Texaco owner Harry (Travis Mitchell) has had
enough. He’s sick of the giant bus parked on his property that points the way
to Golden Rule, the massive Christian church up the hill, and he’s finally
taking steps to have it hauled away. His ex wife, Sarah (Kerry McGann), thinks
he’s doing it because she’s found a community at the church; his estranged teen
son Ian (Will Roland), looking for a way to rebel, decides that he wants to
support his father. But Ian has been using the bus for something Golden Rule
and Sarah would definitely not approve of: assignations with his lover, Jordan
(Bryan Fitzgerald, giving the show’s best performance), who just wants to be happy. With the help of a cleaning
solvent invented by the Nazis, everyone’s dreams explode in a melodramatic
flourish that derails the delicate story being told.

An unfocused examination of gay teenagers, Christianity and
small-town business, James Lantz’s slight new drama The Bus never explores any of its plot strands in depth.
Harry’s employee, Sloat (Robert Nuner), turns out to be an alcoholic, though
this doesn’t much matter until the plot demands it. And the congregation of
Golden Rule seems straight out of a satire, as they try to wreck Harry’s
business through boycotts and pamphleteering.

Director John Simpkins can’t seem to settle on a tone. He
directs McGann to a fare-the-well as the religious Sarah, leaving her scenes feeling
like leftovers from a funnier draft of the play, while Harry’s storyline is a
David and Goliath story of the little guy battling the big, bad corporation
threatening his livelihood. And then there’s Ian and Jordan’s tender, push-pull
relationship, immediately identifiable to anyone who ever grew up gay in small
town America. Jordan has accepted who he is (he’s even told his younger sister,
played here by Julia Lawler, who also does double duty as the narrator), but
Ian is reluctant to announce that he’s gay. The Bus’ best scene finds him trying to convince Jordan that
they’re “normal.” “I don’t even like musicals,” he announces triumphantly,
leaving Jordan to sheepishly admit that he kind of does.

Lantz seems unwilling to focus for too long on any one situation
in his play. Is this a story about the fallout from embracing a religion that
condemns an entire group of people based on whom they love? Is it a look at the
struggle for financial solvency in a small town? Is it a tragic love story
between two teenagers who ultimately can’t be together? A gay Our Town? Lantz seems to want The Bus to be all of these, and Simpkins, to the detriment
of the material, does his best to comply. The result is a leaden play that
cries out for more delicacy of touch, one that embraces the melodrama instead
of the bitter, sober reality.

The Bus

Through Oct. 30, 59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St. (betw. Park
& Madison Aves.), www.thebustheplay.com; $17.50–$25.