"Excursion Fare," the winner of the Kennedy Center's 17th annual American College Theatre Festival playwriting award, borrows from "Outward Bound," "No Exit," "The Time of Your Life" and even "Our Town." It has very little it can call its own. Like most student playwriting, this painfully earnest drama by Dennis Smith wants desperately to make An Important Statement. But the harder it tries -- which is quite hard, indeed -- the less it succeeds.
The premise is workable enough; it worked, after all, in "Outward Bound." Nine passengers have gathered in a railway station, which turns out to be purgatory. They all have tickets that would allow them to board one of the trains that thunder by periodically. But since they are unsure of their destination, they are understandably reluctant to take the final ride, as it were. If there is a certain light whimsy in the air at the start, it soon gives way to heavy-handed symbolism and the kind of moral pomposity that one expects of aged deacons, perhaps, but hardly of student playwrights.
The characters in "Excursion Fare," which will be repeated today at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in the Terrace Theater, are neither particularly charming nor original, although Smith intends them to be both. There is the college writing teacher, who was afraid all his short life to "make a commitment"; a mousey young woman, who ended her largely anonymous existence by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge; and a grizzled cowpoke, whose resemblance to Kit Carson in "The Time of Your Life" is entirely too close for comfort. For eclecticism's sake, you also get Amelia Earhart, Ambrose Bierce and Martin Bormann.
They all philosophize, argue, play games, strike Sartrien bargains with one another and eventually reveal their sorry souls. The stationmaster, who functions rather like the folksy stage manager in "Our Town," delivers a few homely platitudes. When Amelia Earhart, who likes to do crossword puzzles, asks for an eight-letter word conveying terror and dread, he replies sagely, "Eternity!"
It's that kind of play. Not surprisingly, the actors, who hail from the University of Oregon, play their roles as if they had been graven on tablets and handed down from the mount.