Welcome to Greater Rochester Repertory Companies

Deeply Personal, Truly Universal: A Ride on The Dreamland Bus

Marie Long

A reminiscence by director, Bonnie Meath-Lang

It was a great privilege to direct the Greater Rochester Repertory Companies’ spring production of Kenneth Graham’s wise play, The Dreamland Bus. The production was the realization of a dream for the gifted actor and GRRC Board Member and Treasurer, Diane Chevron, who brought the play to the attention of Rochester audiences in a staged reading five years ago, and advocated for a full production of its lyrical, humorous, and heart-rending script. 

The play was a deeply personal project for all of us on many levels. Kenneth Graham, who won the Southern Playwrights Competition and Festival of Southern Theatre Playwriting Competition, as well as other accolades for Dreamland, is Diane’s cousin. Her Aunt Eleanor, a native Rochesterian, is the prototype for the character Lucille, and was played by Diane herself. Her uncle and four cousins are models for the other characters in the play, which takes place over an Easter weekend in the late 80’s in Columbia, South Carolina at a time of great stress for the family. 

For the other actors—Peter Allen as Randy, Peter Elliott as Boston, Nancy Fancher as ZeeZee, Greg Ludek as Chris, and Louie Podlaski as David—there was an enormous sense of responsibility in bringing this sensitive, funny family to life--not only to realize vividly their beautifully-written characters, but also to honor this World War II veteran Navy doctor and nurse and their loyal, passionate children. This sense was heightened by the fact that Mr. Graham, his 94-year-old mother, Eleanor, and his two surviving brothers actually drove up from South Carolina to see the opening weekend of our production.  For the cast, production staff and crew, the opportunity to spend time with the people they were representing was a unique and intense experience of the “family” we continue to find in doing theatre.

It would be a very partial picture, though, to dwell solely on particular family details and Rochester connections in reflecting on this production. The power of The Dreamland Bus and Kenneth’s script is in its universality. It is a portrayal of the importance of family love and loyalty when its individual members’ worlds are falling apart—a parent is aging and seeing his faculties diminish as his wife’s sense of dread envelops her, adult children are packing up the home they have always known, a dutiful wife and mother is realizing that she has sacrificed her own needs to travel and experience life, an idealistic young writer faces disappointment and ridicule repeatedly, a brother falls in love with the wrong woman—these are all moments in the play to which the audience connected in visible flashes of recognition and comments at talkbacks and after the show. In this way, the audience, too, became part of the Bradley/Graham family, and the theatre family that was GRRC’s production of The Dreamland Bus.  And I was terrifically grateful to be along for the ride!

- Bonnie Meath-Lang, director The Dreamland Bus

Photo:    Life imitating art - Members of the Graham family joined the cast of The Dreamland Bus. Standing from left to right - Ken Graham (playwright), Gregory Ludek (who portrays Ken Graham), Nancy Fancher (Zeezee), Louie Podlaski (who portrays Frank Graham), Frank Graham, Peter Allen (who portrays Bothwell Graham), Bothwell Graham, Diane Chevron (who portrays Eleanor Graham). Seated are Peter Elliott (Boston), Eleanor Zientara Graham and director, Bonnie Meath-Lang.

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