Bus Stop. A snowstorm has closed the road ahead, and a bus is stranded outside a diner, where worldly-wise owner Grace supervises her high-school-aged waitress, Elma. Among those requiring doughnuts and coffee or bacon and eggs are driver Carl, who is Grace's occasional lover, and disgraced philosophy professor Gerald Lyman. The primary drama, however, is provided by cowboy Bo Decker and Cherie, who calls herself a chanteuse. A lad with no experience of women, Bo has forced Cherie onto the bus — despite the remonstrations of his best friend, Virgil — and now plans to take her to his cattle ranch in Montana. The local sheriff, Will, is at the diner, and Cherie turns to him for help. William Inge's Bus Stop was written in 1955, and the play shows its age — though in some ways, it also tests the received wisdom of its time. The evening is an extended conversation on love, love in several manifestations. In addition to the sparring of Bo and Cherie, there's Grace's taste for unencumbered sex and single living, the professor's interest in young girls, and Elma's crush on the professor — a crush sparked by her love of learning and his store of knowledge. The performances are good, but not quite good enough to ransom the script's weaknesses and deepen its strengths. Still, you can't help being happy when Bo and Cherie finally walk into each other's arms. Presented by Paragon Theatre through June 6, Crossroads Theater, 2590 Washington Street, 303-300-2210, www.paragontheatre.org. Reviewed May 14.
Girls Only. The trouble with Girls Only, a two-woman evening of conversation, skits, singing, improvisation and audience participation, is that it's so relentlessly nice. Creator-performers Barbara Gehring and Linda Klein have worked together for many years; at some point, they read their early diaries to each other and were transfixed by the similarities and differences they found in them, as well as the insights they gained into their own psyches and the travails of puberty. This theater piece was developed from that material — but not all of that material. "I purposely don't read every diary entry in the show, because it turns out I was kind of mean, and I don't want to be mean," Klein told an interviewer. But mean is funny, and when you cut it out entirely, what do you have to joke about? Girly pink bedrooms, purses, bras, skinny models in glossy magazines. Every time they tell a story with the tiniest bite to it, Gehring and Klein — both talented and appealing stage performers — move instantly to reassure us that they don't mean it. At one point Klein relates an interesting tale about how she came to possess the badly taxidermied body of an electrocuted squirrel as a child; the minute she's completed this funny, freaky moment in an otherwise highly predictable evening, she gives a pouty, don't-get-me-wrong grin and sweetly caresses the squirrel's head. There's enough good material here for a tight, funny, one-hour-long show, but this one stretches on and on, as if Klein and Gehring had been determined to throw every single joke and piece of shtick that occurred to them in the script. Presented by Denver Center Attractions through June, Garner Galleria Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org. Reviewed September 18.