nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 8, 2011
Interestingly, The Bus, by James Lantz—which I saw the night before I saw We in Silence Hear a Whisper—has much in common with that play. Both are narrated by teenage girls; both use the tenets of fairy tales and story theater to express their narratives, and both are deeply and seriously concerned with the tragic consequences of bigotry and intolerance. Unfortunately, The Bus does not accomplish its goals nearly as well as We in Silence, owing to problems with both the script and the production.
Lantz's play takes place in the American Heartland, mostly at a Texaco station. The script says it happens "now-ish," but I admit that the sight of two of its characters—gas station attendants with oilrags in their back pockets apparently providing service to customers—confused me; I haven't seen one of them in at least a decade.
The Bus follows two linked storylines. The main one has to do with Harry Deforge, who runs this Texaco station and has decided that a bus located on his property must be removed pronto. Said bus belongs to a powerful and popular local church (it directs passersby to the church's location from the highway), and when Harry declares war on this church, he finds himself in way over this head.
Meanwhile, Harry's teenage son Ian is exploring his nascent sexuality with another boy, Jordan; their experiments take place in the self-same bus, which the boys view as a safe, deserted place to make love together in a town that they are sure won't accept them as they are.
I guessed right from the start why Harry was so adamant about the bus's removal; but it's not just predictability that weakens The Bus. Mostly the play suffers from a severe lack of information. We meet Harry's ex-wife, who is a staunch member of the church, but we never know why these two divorced or why Harry is so sure his son hates him. The play is in 59e59's tiny Theater C, often a problematic space; director John Simpkins and his designers haven't found a way to make the room hospitable to their concept of the play, which despite the Our Town-ish tone of the script is heavily naturalistic (a cart filled with auto supplies, a working set of towing chains, and a huge gas tank are among the set pieces). Lantz and his collaborators have an important tale to tell about homophobia and institutionalized prejudice, but in this production the way it's told often gets in the way.