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Stanton's Garage

People like corny, and it's precisely that crowd which will enjoy the sentimental ending … or endings.

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Michael Shahen and Mary Liz Meyer in Little Lake's Stanton's Garage. - PHOTO COURTESY OF JAMES ORR.
Despairing of the future of theater? Quit being so dramatic! Joan Ackerman, author of Little Lake Theatre's Stanton's Garage, makes the case that with a little refurbishment, the lightning from theater's glory days could strike twice.

This particular brand of lightning struck first in 1955, with William Inge's Bus Stop, a comedy/drama about life's lovelorn in the American Midwest that Ackerman has remodeled and rethought into Stanton's Garage.

I should be clear: This story of a Chicago surgeon and her fiancé's teen-age daughter stranded in a small town isn't an official rewrite of Bus Stop. But it's so similar, it's impossible not to have that script buzzing around in your head the whole time. Yet what really matters is that Ackerman uses Inge's schematic to entertain the audience, and that she manages to do precisely that often enough makes this slight case of theatrical grave-digging much more excusable.

She's traded Inge's melancholy for her own brand of winsome wackiness -- a choice which makes me nuts, but what do I know? People like corny, and it's precisely that crowd which will enjoy the sentimental ending … or endings, I should say, since the one area where Ackerman trips up is knowing when to get off.

Little Lake director Art DeConciliis guides a gentle and intimate production that, in the scenes that are gently intimate, works well. Tory Pasternak and Troy Bruchwalski play the prototypical juvenile lovers with such sweetness it's difficult not to be enchanted by them. And Mary Liz Meyer plays her character's dawning sense of fulfillment with a slow, steady hand.

But when Ackerman goes into the loopy, if not loony, side of things, DeConciliis and company seem to hang back. Michael Shahen, Bob Anderson, Nathan Bell, Rebecca Herron and Martha Bell are charged with making Ackerman's zany, kooky world believable, and I'm not entirely sure they have. Ackerman far too often relies on jokey idiosyncrasies to define the people in her play, but these actors are more interested in creating fully rounded characters. It's admirable, but it does put them in opposition to the playwright.

Sometimes there is such a thing as having too much artistic integrity.

 

Stanton's Garage continues through Sat., July 2. Little Lake Theatre, 500 Lakeside Drive South (off Route 19), Canonsburg. 724-745-6300 or www.littlelaketheatre.org

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