Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Bus Stop (Theatre HAN)

By Kitty

BOTTOM LINE: If you are short on patience, the wait at this Bus Stop will be very, very long.

Controversy has surrounded The Bus Stop, by Gao Xingjian, since its Beijing premiere in 1983. The Chinese people, weary of conforming to the rules of communism, embraced The Bus Stop and lauded writer Gao, much to the displeasure of the Chinese government. Less than five years after the play's premiere, Gao fled China and settled in Paris as a political refugee.

The play begins with two men in the countryside. Neither is aquainted with the other, but eventually, one begins to converse with the other in an attempt to pass the time. Soon, others begin to arrive, each with their own story, their own identity, and their own reason for hopping the bus to the city for the day. For each bus engine they faintly recognize in the distance, their excitement and anticipation jumps. It is this reoccurring renewal of faith that keeps them waiting. But the bus never stops. Should they go home? Should they take their chances and walk several miles into the city? Or should they continue to wait for something that may never come?

The strength in this production of The Bus Stop is in the design. The Theatre HAN team transforms the Sanford Meisner Theater into a small, cramped space using four plastic-draped cabanas, one in each corner, to house the audience. This creates a theatre-in-the round effect of which the actors take full advantage. Often, the actors address the audience directly and it is not uncommon for the actors to brush an audience arm or graze a crossed leg, all of which adds to the discomfort of waiting in an enclosed space with strangers.

The weakness, however, is in the direction. The actors do make the best of what they're given, with stand-out performances by Gabe Belyeu as Glasses and Adam Bedri as Hothead. Unfortunately, though, each character comes off as more cartoonish than capable which suggests an emphasis on "playing" a character rather than being the character. If actor and director can find a compromise between the two, the overall picture of the play will provide more interesting shade.

(The New York premiere of Gao Xingjian's The Bus Stop, produced by Theatre HAN, performs through April 19th at The Sanford Meisner Theater, 164 11th Avenue. Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8pm with matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday at 3pm and an evening performance on Sunday at 7pm. Tickets are $15, available by calling 212.352.3101 or visiting For more show info check out

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