Unless you're a drama buff, there's a good chance you aren't terribly familiar with 20th century playwright William Inge of Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic, and Bus Stop. Local actor and director Michael Locklair thinks that's a real injustice. "I'm crazy about William Inge," he says. "He's right up there with Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O'Neill, in my opinion."
Locklair has a long history with Inge — he discovered his plays while in college, and did a production of Inge's Come Back, Little Sheba in graduate school. Now, many years later, he's directing Bus Stop, an ensemble piece about eight people stuck overnight in a small-town Kansas diner thanks to a snowstorm, for the Footlight Players. "I've actually put this play up for several theaters over the years," he says. "It has eight of the most marvelous characters. And it's a very contained set — it all takes place in this real tight little bus stop."
The play revolves around three different romantic relationships, all of which grow and develop over one night in the snow-bound diner. The first is between two young people — Cherie, a nightclub singer, and Bo, a cowboy who is convinced Cherie will marry him even though she has no interest in him. The second is a somewhat clandestine relationship between Carl, the bus driver, and Grace, the owner of the diner, while the third is a flirtation between the alcoholic Dr. Gerald Lyman and the young diner waitress, Elma. "It's a comedy, but it's got a lot of dramatic points to it," Locklair says.
The hard part with this production (as with any ensemble piece) is the blocking. Since the characters share so much stage time, it's important to map out everyone's movements. "It's a real trick to direct all these people on stage," Locklair says. "How can they carry on conversations, and build their relationships? It's sort of like choreographing a dance."
Locklair's long history isn't just with Bus Stop and Inge, but with the Footlight Players as well. He's a Summerville native, and took his very first acting class at Footlight when he was 12 years old. Afterward, he studied theater at Georgia Southern University and later completed his MFA in theater at Florida State University in Sarasota, Fla. After working with various theaters along the East Coast, Locklair moved to New York, where he lived until moving back to Charleston 20 years ago to take care of his parents. Once here, he became one of the founding members of the School of the Arts, and taught there as well for several years before becoming the school's fine arts director. He's retired (CK) now, but is still quite active in the local theater community. "I usually direct or perform," he says. "I love having these young people to work with [in Bus Stop]. As a director, you get to see the show go from a simple reading to a full performance — I love watching that process."
Locklair generally gravitates toward plays from the 1940s and 1950s (Bus Stop premiered in 1955). "That's just the period I like," he says. "Everybody does all the modern stuff, but I think if we don't start doing some of these classics, they're going to be forgotten."