Bus Stop begins during a snowstorm in early March in a small town about thirty miles west of Kansas City. The entire action of the play takes place in a street-corner restaurant, which serves as a stopover for the bus lines in the area. It is 1:00 a.m., and telephone lines are down because of the snow. Elma Duckworth, a romantic girl who works for Grace, the restaurant owner, questions Grace about her life with her former husband, Barton. The sheriff, Will Masters, comes in to tell them that the Topeka bus is due and the road to Topeka is blocked by the storm.
Act 1 presents the other major characters of the play, now stranded in this bus stop in rural Kansas. The first to appear from the bus is Cherie, a blonde girl of about twenty, dressed in a jacket of tarnished metallic cloth, a dress of sequins and net, and gilded sandals that reveal brightly painted toenails. Her accent is Southern; she is from the Ozarks. Cherie works at the Blue Dragon nightclub by the stockyards in Kansas City and is being abducted by Bo Decker, a cowboy from Montana who has succumbed to her charms and now seeks her hand in marriage, since she is his first sexual conquest. Cherie had quit school at age twelve to stay home with her many brothers and sisters in River Gulch, Arkansas. When a flood washed away the town, her family was separated; she and one sister then went to Joplin, where Cherie won second prize in an amateur talent contest. This achievement led to her present employment at the Blue Dragon.
The second character from the bus is Dr. Gerald Lyman, a former Rhodes Scholar with a Ph.D. from Harvard University; he has been married three times and freed with varying exactions from the women. The third wife wanted only freedom to seek new happiness with a ballplayer; the second wife, a former student, sued him for divorce on charges of drunkenness and incontinence; the first wife, after a month’s honeymoon in Bermuda, sued him for his house, car, and an alimony he still finds difficult to pay. He now wanders from town to town simply to prove that he is free, having walked away from his last position at a small, progressive college in the East. His first words are from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “Ah! This castle hath a pleasant seat.” He gives the central clue to his character when he quotes from Hamlet: “Nymph, in thy orisons be all my sins remembered!” The professor is hopelessly trapped by the concept of the ideal, and his preference for young maidens has led him to local schoolyards, much to the chagrin of the authorities. His travels give him an opportunity to seek those young divinities who will, perhaps, lend meaning to his otherwise miserable existence. He immediately begins his pursuit of Elma.
Bo Decker and Virgil Blessing enter last, Bo having fallen asleep on the bus. Virgil, in his forties, has a fatherly attitude toward Bo, who is in his twenties, the epitome of youthful masculinity. Bo owns a ranch in Timber Hill, Montana, to which he is returning after winning almost every first place in the rodeo events in Kansas City. So successful was he that his picture was taken by Life magazine. He watched Cherie sing her best number, “That Ole Black Magic,” fell desperately in love, and now wishes to solidify his sense of responsibility for her through marriage. She insists that she does not want to marry him, but he is staunch in his commitment.
The act ends as Grace develops a headache and goes upstairs to her apartment for a nap. Carl, the bus driver, has supposedly gone for a walk. Will, the sheriff, leaves the room, and Dr. Lyman speaks of his hatred for authority figures, noting that, right or wrong, he always insists on having his way.
The second act finds Dr. Lyman trying to set up a rendezvous with Elma in Topeka, where she plans to see the Kansas City Symphony and stay overnight with her sister. He arranges to meet her there. Virgil discloses that he was once in love, but felt more comfortable with the fellows in the...
(The entire section is 3,503 words.)