The Bus tells the story of two teenage boys – Ian and Jordan, who regularly meet, late at night, in an abandoned church bus. Unfortunately, their refuge is the apple of discord between the nearby Golden Rule Bible Fellowship Church and Harry Deforge, owner of the local gas station and Ian’s father. Ever since Harry bought the small gas station, the bus has been parked in his yard. Things come to a head when Harry decides to take legal action against the Church for not removing the old bus and the Church in turn begins a boycott against his business. Add to the mix the tense – to say the least – relationship between Harry and his ex-wife, the church-going Sarah and the result is explosive.
After 2011’s spate of suicides by teenage gay teens James Lantz wanted to write a story to expose and combat homophobia. The Bus is a funny and sincere story of teenage love in the Bible Belt of America. It does not only tackle the issue of homophobia but those of religion, family and identity as well. Lantz has created characters that are realistic and all too human, not caricatures and stereotypes. He does not delve very deep in the issues and the characters, there are no long philosophical soliloquys or complex dialogues; just everyday fallible people leading everyday lives to the best of their ability. Yes, the boys hide their homosexuality and have to live with the danger of being exposed and potentially becoming outcasts, but for a play that is set to expose homophobia there is no tangible feeling of hatred, on the contrary there are moments of hilarity and strong emotion. Despite the fact that Ian’s parents have their suspicions and fears about their son’s sexuality, they are loving and protective in their own way. Even when Harry finds out about the boys and even though he is enraged and his personality is quite volatile and rigid, he is never vulgar or violent, there is a scintilla of acceptance present. Set in the 80s in a small town, it depicts accurately the small town mentality – a community equally close-knit and suffocating – the power the local church has to direct people’s actions and the need of people to escape.
The cast of The Bus gave a moving performance and deftly portrayed the bonds between the characters; the clumsy and intense teenage love of the boys, the tender and fearful relationship between mother and son, the erratic one of the ex-couple. Particularly noticeable was Ian Dring’s Sloat, the closeted homosexual, overall guardian angel and eccentric gas station employee. Robert McWhir’s direction nicely balances the picture of bigoted homophobia against a tale of coming-of-age and family ties. While, David Shields managed to transform Above the Stag’s tiny stage, with a simple platform and a few strategically placed advertising signs, into a decrepit gas station and rusty church bus.
A level-headed play for an inflammatory issue that should definitely go beyond an LGBT audience.