The Greyhound Bus Station
550 NW 6th Ave
Friday, March 14, 2001
On the outskirts of downtown Portland, beyond bustling Burnside, lies a long, dilapidated brick building. It's not pretty to look at, and a lot of scary people wander near its corroded walls. But if you're one of the brave, and you can muster up the courage to look past the ugliness and venture inside, you'll find yourself in the thick of one of the most provocative theater experiences to be found this spring season. I'm referring, of course, to Portland's Greyhound bus station.
Station's plot is not complex: People wait for a bus to come, and when it comes, they get on it. But within that simple structure a whole slew of beautifully subtle mini-dramas unfolds; indeed, so many that it's often hard to watch them all at once. I saw a kid who looked about 17 take his four-year old daughter to the bathroom; I saw a mother and her two sons talk about their dreams while fiddling with their mullets; and I saw a young, dark-haired woman deliver a tearful goodbye to her lover, wrapping her legs around his torso and tongue-kissing his face.
And topping them all was the young lad who placed two quarters in the plastic television chair, and then beat it desperately when the reception failed to come in. His story almost moved me to tears as I remembered my own days spent battling those very same chairs, waiting, oh waiting, in ugly airports--and yes, bus stations--for mom to take my hand and drag me to the gate.
Station's vast, spare interior and constantly buzzing florescent light design present a bleakness that recalls the pre-World War I German neo-surrealist expressionism that has had a resurgence on the West Coast ever since Nicolai Slind presented his Post Office in San Francisco two summers ago. Office breathed new life into the world of government buildings with a mind-numbing flickering motif that perfectly captured institutional office drear.
Unlike those institutions, however, the theme in Station is transport, not stasis--people leaving one place to arrive at another. A less dismal façade might have worked better to convey that sense of movement, but really, the details of this set are so well done that those flaws are easily ignored.
Indeed, the show's attention to detail breaks new ground for the world of interactive theater: real video games and vending machines lining one side of the room, and a fully-functional kitchen and dining area offering an array of delicious, deep-fried distractions for heathens who might get bored of the beautiful acting and writing. A viewer can even board one of the buses and go for a ride, though it costs an additional 20 to 40 bucks to do so.
Don't miss Greyhound Bus Station because of its seedy locale, for the exterior ambience only adds to the stunning grit of its internal world. It may not be pretty to look at, but it's beautiful to see.