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Renewing classics

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NAME: Bus Stop at Theatre in the Square

AGE: William Inge's Midwestern comedy made its Broadway debut in 1955.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: A protege of Tennessee Williams, Inge followed his Pulitzer-winning Picnic with lighter fare about bus travelers and other small-town folk snowed in overnight at a Kansas diner. Probably most famous for the 1956 film adaptation that starred Marilyn Monroe, the stage play has a loose structure and cultural cross-section that may remind today's audiences more of Robert Altman's work.

UNIVERSAL THEMES: Grace's Diner turns out to be a crossroads for different aspects of love, loneliness and longing. Grace (Marguerite Hannah-Middleton) and bus driver (Henry Bazemore Jr.) sneak upstairs for a mature, casual tryst. An aging, drunk English professor (James Donadio) ruminates on his failed relationships while flirting with an innocent young waitress (Myranda DeFoor). Rambunctious cowboy Bo (Neal A. Ghant) learns to be more "gallant and tender" while wooing unwilling nightclub singer Cherie (Crystal Dickinson in the Monroe role).

POST-MODERN CONCEPTS: Director Jessica Phelps West strays from tradition by casting four actors of color in the eight-person play. Apart from requiring one line to be tweaked (it now reads, "I think he looks a little like Harry Belafonte"), the casting choices enrich the roles without contradicting anything on the page.

DATED QUALITIES: Frank for its time, Inge's dialogue about sexuality sounds quaint and genteel today, as if terms like "sexual attraction" were seldom spoken in public. You might need to tell younger audiences, for instance, that if someone's "getting fresh," that means they're "hitting on somebody." And while Rochelle Barker's set looks undeniably gorgeous, it resembles a contemporary retro-diner more than its middle-of-nowhere greasy spoon of a half-century ago.

WORTHY OF REVIVAL?: Why not? Bus Stop takes awhile to get into gear and some of its slapstick (such as a literal tug of war over Cherie) feels a bit forced, but it provides a showcase for likable performances and pleasant musical interludes. Bo and Cherie not only make a funny pair of mismatched lovers, each makes separate demands for respect that resonate outside of the play's romantic context.

NOW PLAYING: Through April 23. Theatre in the Square, 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta. Tues.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 and 7 p.m. $18-$33. 770-422-8369. www.theatreinthesquare.com.

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