It’s fitting that Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian’s second major play is having its long overdue NYC premiere during the city’s worst transit crisis since the 80s. Though it draws on similar existential angst as Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (whose work Xingjian has often translated), this story of eight strangers waiting endlessly at a roadside bus stop emerges from specific historical and socio-economic conditions.
The Bus Stop sets the casual brutality of modern life alongside a sustained critique of communist bureaucracy and the blind spots where predatory capitalism runs rampant — subjects that earned the play some especially negative reviews from members of the Communist Party when it premiered in Beijing. In today’s New York, at the moment of America’s closest brush with socialism since the Depression, Xingjian’s absurdist satire mobilizes anxieties about government inefficiency and personal sacrifice that seem ripped from New York Post headlines. Still, Theatre Han’s production avoids engaging these contemporary resonances too explicitly. With simple and effective costume design, a fun, spinning, in-the-round set design, and outstanding sound and lighting, The Bus Stop makes terrific use of the Sanford Meisner Theatre’s moody, miniscule space. Located out of time and place, it recalls the afterlife antechamber of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.
In this tight, intimate environment, even the weaker performers can’t detract from the ensemble’s increasingly chaotic momentum. The Bus Stop’s closing optimism for group action brings everyone — especially the audience — under its wing. Inflammatory at the time of its writing and enlightening in the epoch of its New York premiere, you’ll be missing out on much more than a fun ride if you don’t catch The Bus Stop.