You Never Know What Happens At A Bus Stop!
In a city like Los Angeles where the land of theatre is not a top competitor in comparison to cities such as Chicago, New York, or even cities across the pond like London, it is always important to me to be able to support the projects that show promise rather than the crap that's forced fed down our throats by the 'big wigs'.
It's even more important that I can actually write a review that doesn't rake the production across the coals because of its lack of...Well you get the point. THIS review, however, I can honestly say is a good one.
Bus Stops is an avant-garde stage play, written and directed by Jaimyon Parker, that depicts two different societal views of the same issues that most of us face every day. It takes a look at the power of helping someone and how lives can change if we simply walk out of our comfort zone to assist them. It stars Parker himself, Malika Blessing, Leonard Thomas, Greg DePetro, Christianna Carmine, Brittany Mayti, Natalie Kabenjian, and Andy Ottenweller.
If I were to borrow a famous sentiment I would say that a bus stop by any other sign is STILL a bus stop. Yet, there's really no place to start so I'll just jump right in with my opinions on this show. The writing in and of itself definitely make an interesting read all on its own. However taking it and adapting these stories to the stage was an interesting choice for Parker to make. It's not easy to take unrealistic moments and weave them together to make something that in reality would essentially never really work. Yet he was able to create a continuity (however awkward) that an audience can readily follow. If you're looking for a play that is going to give you realism of everyday bus behavior then Bus Stops is probably not the play for you to see. I mean lets be real, the average behavior for people at a bus stop would be silence. And silence doesn't make for good theatre. Although I enjoyed the plot, the characters and the stories, the fact that I was witnessing total strangers share some invisible bond in a matter of 60 minutes left me feeling unsettled.
The realist in my head said,
"There's no way on this earth I would sit at a bus stop and begin to share such personal stories to a complete stranger that I only JUST met; referring to them by name as if I've known them my entire life."
Yet the creator in me screamed out and said,
"It's theatre!!! It doesn't always have to be realistic! Sometimes it's simply about the message. Some things are MADE to make you think outside the box. Try taking it for what it is: A story!"
And on that note I tip my hat off to Mr. Parker! He has woven together several stories that exemplify one simple and universal message: It is better to help people when you can, with what you can, rather than do nothing at all and watch another human being fail.
Being a man of color and growing up in pretty rough neighborhoods myself it seemed the most unreal to have a middle class, elderly father take to a gun totting, rejected, gang banging teen, who then is shown kindness and given a home by another stranger who just so happens to be pregnant. Don't forget to add a boyfriend who is thinking about robbing a bank because he and his pregnant love are barely making it. In addition she has quite an interesting set of daddy issues of her own to share.
While on the other side of the tracks you have a successful business man with an awkward dream that causes tension with his wife, a boyfriend full of dumb decisions and a girlfriend he feels is worth fighting for, and we don't want to leave out the completely (yet hilariously) insane hooker, played by the very talented Natalie Kabenjian, who takes matters into her own hands and leaves you speechless nonetheless.
The acting from the players was interesting. Although there was nothing about the stories that really caused for great skill, these actors seemed to pull and give more than what the average audience member might have originally thought they would get. I mean how much acting can you give waiting on a bus? Right? Well, Brittany Mayti proves us wrong as she gives an astounding performance as the troubled teen Vicky. Pulling from places that, as an actor, I know had to take some great ability. Not only to portray such an angry and hurting character but to sustain an emotional state of anguish and heartbreak that left me feeling such sympathy every time she hit the stage. Malika Blessing was both comical and surprising as she herself dug deep to tell a story of her father that no young woman should have to witness. Although there was a point when I felt like this type of emotion was a bit displaced I continued to remind myself that theatre doesn't always have to be based in realism! And with that in mind I thoroughly enjoyed the touching moment that brought her to tears on stage. She had me thinking that at any time her stage baby would be birthed right there as tensions built and drama released.
Greg DePetro was truly amazing to watch. He took simplicity to an entirely different level. He made me think he was the average white man sitting at a bus stop commenting and reacting in ways that the typical white man would react. Nothing overdone, exactly as it should have been played. It was quite masterful to see. Of course I'm sure that if you're in actor you'd appreciate the ability to keep it simple. Something not EVERY actor knows how to do. The contrast between DePetro's uptight and almost pompous demeanor and that of Andy Ottenweller as Ray was a theatrical masterpiece. Ottenweller really came into his own; portraying the very outspoken and energetic character that had made his share of bad decisions and searching for people to blame before resting on the fact that he really needed to get his life together.
As it stands, I'm always weary about Directors/Writers who put themselves in their work because I always feel like one or more parts of the jobs you have in the production suffer. Either the writing, the directing or the acting. However I commend Parker for portraying the struggling father, Myron, who felt like his back was against the wall and the only way out was the illegal way. His contrast with girlfriend Sheila (played by Malika Blessing) was a safe and predictable one. Yet nonetheless fitting for the circumstances of the show. I was unsure however, if Myron was supposed to be more rugged and rough around the edges or simply a man with a lot on his plate and no other choices to make; much like Parker portrayed him. There was nothing that wowed me about Parker's acting in this particular production but it was at least solid and didn't make me cringe with disappointment as some other actors in the past have caused me to do.
Out of 5 stars I give this production a solid 3. I enjoyed the concept, the writing and the story telling. I think that there is still a way to tighten the avant-garde-ness of it all to make the situations and the relationships between the characters more believable to an audience that MAY not be as versed in theatre as others. It is no easy task to put your vision on paper and eventually the stage for the world to see and critique and for that I must say that Jaimyon gets two thumbs up from me. There is no doubt that he is a great writer, a developed director and a growing actor (much like the rest of us). I am interested to see what other productions come out of the mind of Jaimyon Parker...I'll definitely be in the audience to support.
**You can catch Bus Stops for their closing performances March 7-9 at The Flight Theatre in The Complex on Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood, CA.**