We New Yorkers take profound delight in disparaging the MTA, but however bungled our transport, none of us has ever spent years waiting for a bus. That lengthy delay afflicts eight citizens in Gao Xingjian’s 1983 play, The Bus Stop, which the Chinese government condemned as “spiritual pollution.” As the years roll past, those standing in line debate the best course of action: return, walk on, or continue to wait.
The play is less than scintillating, though that may accord to Shiao-Ling Yu’s translation or Theatre Han’s production, directed by Samantha Shechtman. Some of the actors seem underrehearsed and unsure as to whether they’re embodying stereotypes or playing fully realized characters. Fear of censorship perhaps led Gao to prefer generalisms and metaphor—the symbolism of that absent bus comes to seem limited and strained. However, the few genuinely Chinese details are welcome, as when one character insults another, saying, “Go jump in a river and let the turtles eat you.” Though written in homage to Samuel Beckett, the play displays some signal differences, particularly its belief in the human capacity for change. As in Waiting for Godot, several characters toward the play’s end call out, “Let’s go.” But here, they do!