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Boston Repertory Theaters Shine

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Stephen Lee Anderson, left, and Noah Bean in the Huntington Theatre Company production of William Inge's "Bus Stop." (T. Charles Erickson/Huntington Theatre Company)
Stephen Lee Anderson, left, and Noah Bean in the Huntington Theatre Company production of William Inge's "Bus Stop." (T. Charles Erickson/Huntington Theatre Company)

'In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)'

Sarah Ruhl is one of the hottest playwrights around. “The Clean House,” which continues to clean up at repertory theaters throughout the country, set the standard when it was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2005. “In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play)” was a finalist last year, and the SpeakEasy Stage Company production shows why.

Ruhl’s quirky feminist tale begins in an 1880s New York spa town where a certain Dr. Givings has discovered that he can “cure” female hysteria with electrical stimulation to a certain area of the body. But these are Victorian times and sex is a four-letter word, so the doctor, his patients and, eventually, his wife, can’t find any connection between sex and the electrical machine.

At times, the goings-on seem like a Victorian sitcom complete with acting that merges the ecstatic with the hysterical. But what Ruhl, director Scott Edmiston and the cast (led by Anne Gottlieb and Marianna Bassham) capture so beautifully is that all this isn’t a joke. Women, and men, finally begin to ask for what they want and need and the moments toward the end of the play that illustrate that are heartrending.

-- Through Oct. 16 at the Boston Center for the Arts, by the SpeakEasy Stage Company

'Bus Stop'

Nicholas Martin is a master of casting and directing ensemble drama and comedy, so it’s a treat to see him back at his old stomping grounds — the Huntington Theatre Company.

Martin is taking on William Inge’s 1955 play, “Bus Stop.” You might remember it from the Marilyn Monroe movie, which was really more about Monroe than Inge.

She and her abductor, Bo, may be the central characters, but they’re really only the first among equals as Martin and the superb cast of eight demonstrate so nimbly. They’re less successful at demonstrating that Inge is an American playwright of the first order. “Bus Stop” is more reminiscent of Hank Williams than Tennessee Williams.

That’s hardly an insult. Hank was one of the great singer-songwriters of the 20th century, chronicling the lives of broken-hearted lovers, heartland hobos and strivers for something that seems just beyond their grasp. Inge’s “Bus Stop” characters are similar, even if their lives seem more the subject matter of three-minute songs than two-hour plays.

But you can’t sing much better than these eight actors, who include the owner of the Kansas City diner (Karen MacDonald), a bus driver (Will LeBow) and his stranded fares including Cherie (Nicole Rodenburg) and Bo (Noah Bean). Mix in a young diner employee (Ronete Levenson), a professor with troubling taste (Henry Stram), a sheriff (Adam LeFevre) and Bo’s pal, Virgil (Stephen Lee Anderson), and you have the makings of an all-star repertory company. Here they get past potential clichés and create eight characters of real substance. You might even want to be stranded with them.

-- Through Oct. 17 at the BU Theatre, by the Huntington Theatre Company

This program aired on September 27, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Ed Siegel Twitter Critic-At-Large
Ed Siegel is critic-at-large for WBUR.