Cherie, an attractive chanteuse, slightly past her prime, who has been singing in a Kansas City nightclub but is now traveling west, allegedly for a film test at a Hollywood studio. She is hotly pursued by Bo Decker, who, having heard her rendition of “That Old Black Magic” at the nightclub where she entertained, was so completely captivated by her that he ended up losing his virginity to her. Now he insists that she must marry him, presumably to make him an honest man. Unsentimental about her fleeting affair with Bo, Cherie does not want to go off to live on Bo’s farm in Montana, although, as she considers her options, the prospect of marrying Bo seems to be a reasonable one for her.
Bo Decker, a young, extremely innocent cowboy whose infatuation with Cherie consumes him. He will not leave her alone and is completely dismayed when she does not want to marry him. More financially secure than most of the men Cherie has met, and certainly not unattractive, Bo is a good catch, but it takes Cherie a while to realize that. Cherie enlists the sheriff’s help to keep Bo from pursuing her, but finally she accedes to going to Montana with him.
Virgil Blessing, Bo’s surrogate father and traveling companion. Virgil is a lonely man who has devoted himself to rearing Bo, whose parents are dead. When Cherie comes into Bo’s life, however, Virgil gives his blessing to their forthcoming union and bows out as they leave together on the bus for Bo’s ranch in Montana. Virgil represents pure love, and he ends up literally being left out in the cold when the bus pulls out.
Dr. Gerald Lyman
Dr. Gerald Lyman, an egocentric former professor, given to drinking too much, who now spends most of his time on buses traveling aimlessly from one place to another. As the play develops, it becomes clear that his problem is nympholepsy. He tries to arrange an assignation in Topeka with the teenage Elma Duckworth but finally, in a rare moment of conscience, calls it off. Perhaps for the first time in a long while, he does the right thing. Although the audience is never told explicitly that Lyman is in trouble with the law, his concern about getting over the state line as soon as possible suggests that he is running away from something.
Grace, a middle-aged waitress who works long hours at the café where the bus stops. Grace is good-hearted and unattached. During the play, she sneaks off with Carl, the bus driver, for half an hour, taking him to her apartment above the café. As the play ends, Virgil has no place to go and the town is completely closed up, but Grace has had her satisfaction for the night, so she does not invite the forlorn Virgil to share her bed, although to do so would have been to provide a reasonable solution for both of them.
Elma Duckworth, a high school student who loves literature and who romanticizes life. Innocent and nubile, Elma is Grace’s helper in the café. When Grace goes off with the bus driver, Elma takes over, going from customer to customer and eliciting information from all the passengers on the bus, serving the function of a one-person chorus. She and Dr. Lyman do a scene from Romeo and Juliet and she is almost drawn into his web, but his conscience apparently forestalls their meeting in Topeka.
Carl, the bus driver. Realizing that the blizzard raging outside will make it impossible for...
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him to keep his schedule, he seeks comfort in Grace’s bed.
Will Masters, the sheriff, a tall, hefty man with a stubbly beard and a scar on his forehead. Cherie turns to him for protection when Bo’s pursuit bewilders her. It is he who first tells Grace that the bus that is about to arrive will not be able to make it to Topeka because the road is blocked by drifting snow. His role essentially is that of a conciliator between Bo and Cherie.
Virgil Blessing Virgil is also a cowboy and Bo’s long-time friend. Significantly older than Bo, he functions as a father figure for the young man. Virgil has never been married, but he is more knowledgeable about women than Bo and advises him how to behave with women.
Carl Carl is the bus driver. Grace is sweet on him and he seems to be interested in her, but only as a sexual tryst when he is in town. He declines to answer questions on his marital status.
Cherie Only nineteen, Cherie is dressed in sequins and sandals, clearly inappropriate for the weather and circumstances. Her makeup is overdone, with too much lipstick and eyeliner. She is on the bus because Bo is taking her to a Montana ranch. He plans on getting married, but Cherie claims that he has abducted her.
Forced to quit high school when she was twelve to cook and clean for her five older brothers and two younger sisters, Cherie grew up too fast. She has been involved with men since she was fourteen, but she still has romantic ideas about love. In fact, her dream is fall in love and get married. Although she displays antipathy towards Bo, what she really wants is romance and tenderness from him. She also wants him to accept her as she truly is, not because he feels obligated or has idealized visions of her.
Bo Decker Bo is a cowboy from Montana. He is twentyone and quite infatuated with Cherie. He is brash and aggressive toward others; in his initial appearance in the play, for example, he quickly announces that he owns his own ranch, has won a number of awards at the rodeo, had his picture taken for Life Magazine, and thus, deserves everyone’s respect and attention.
Bo and Cherie have been sexually intimate, and he mistakes that for love. He determines that they must get married, since it would be inappropriate otherwise. When it appears that Cherie has rejected him, Bo reveals to Virgil that he has been very lonely. Bo’s approach to women is one of loudness, strength, and obstinacy. He is too insecure about his image and his feelings and therefore acts like a bully. Yet by the time the play ends, Bo has matured enough to show his tender side to Cherie. As a result, she agrees to marry him.
Elma Duckworth A local high school student, Elma works at the diner as a waitress. A very bright but lonely girl, she becomes the object of Dr, Lyman’s attention when he arrives on the bus. Elma is too innocent and inexperienced to realize that Lyman is a duplicitous man with bad intentions. She is so starved for male attention that she is flattered by his interest in her. In the end, she learns that Lyman was trying to seduce her, as he has many other young women. She realizes that she has learned a valuable lesson about men and life.
Grace Grace works in the diner. She is in her late thirties or early forties and lives alone above the diner. She was once married, but her husband left her. Lonely and single, she asserts that she is fine with the brief sexual encounters she has with Carl, the bus driver. Yet, when he declines to say if he is married at the end of the play, she realizes that she is dissatisfied with their relationship.
Dr. Gerald Lyman Dr. Lyman is also a passenger on the bus. He is about fifty years old and has been drinking when the play opens. In fact, he is an alcoholic and has been married and divorced three times. He wants to get out of Kansas as soon as possible; later in the play, it is revealed that he is in trouble with the law for loitering around schools and young girls. This predilection for pedophilia explains his attempted seduction of Elma, the young waitress at the diner. As the play progresses, it becomes clear that he is in need of serious psychological help.
Will Masters Will is the town sheriff, bent on maintaining order. A deacon at the Congregational Church, he is admired by Elma and Grace, who assure Cherie that the sheriff will protect her. He forces Bo to accept responsibility for his actions.