Chester Theatre Company
The Nibroc Trilogy:
THE LAST TRAIN TO NIBROC
July 14 -- 25, 2010
Box Office: (413) 354-7771
Reviewed by Donna Bailey-Thompson
Immediatly following the final words of this captivating play, the lady to my right unconsciously sighed a wordless rave review, a heartfelt, "Ahh."
Last Train To Nibroc weaves a falling in love story that the refreshingly unsophisticated characters – Raleigh (Joel Ripka) and May (Allison McLemore) – build with straightforward bumbling, so guileless and devoid of artifices are they.
Nostalgia tells us that compared to now, 1940 was a time of innocence. Surely dark, disturbing forces cruised below our mental plumb lines but we were spared 24/7 reminders of outrageous human behavior. Except for those who immersed themselves in political science and its educated mentor – history – ordinary folks, like Raleigh and May, seemed to live in the moment. “Seemed,” because now we’re aware of how cleverly our subconscious intervenes.
As theirs do, only instead of examining apparent dead ends, they let those perceptions fade before they venture to meet again to let their disjointed courtship continue, even if they don’t know that’s what is going on.
They meet my chance (or ordination?) on a train heading East from Los Angeles. May is returning home to Kentucky after a disastrous visit with her fiancé. Raleigh, a soldier in suntan uniform, is relieved to find an empty seat on a crowded train. He’s open, friendly; she’s reserved, even timid. She’s reading a book while still wearing the prerequisite gloves. (It’s 1940.) She’s also wearing tie Oxfords and an unexciting modified pancake hat. He’s the picture of health but he’s been discharged because of health. He declares he is a writer and that he’s decided not to go home but to continue on the train to New York City. May has plans to become a missionary. He invites her to come with him to New York. If she had accepted, the play would have died. Instead, with just two pauses in the action, this delightfully funny, sensitive, full-bodied one-act play continues beyond Pearl Harbor, long enough for May to become a school principal and for one of Raleigh’s stories to be accepted by The Saturday Evening Post, and for May to realize that Raleigh is the one person she wants to talk with. (Well, of course!)
Again, Chester’s casting is inspired. Allison McLemore and Joel Ripka are superb. They embody May and Raleigh. Through Raleigh’s gentle (loving) teasing, May’s multi-faceted personality snuffs out her prim demeanor. Charles Corcoran’s minimalist set design extracts full value from what is first a train to a park with lamplights to a front porch; and the train seat that becomes the sitting venue for all scenes. Lara Dubin’s lighting design defines all four locations. Costume Designer Charles Schoonmaker’s white polka dots on navy blue dress was pulled from my memory closet. Tom Shread’s sound design of the clacking of a train and the time capsule songs – Patti Andrews singing, “Any Bonds Today” and Vaughn Monroe crooning about something (not “Chasing with the Moon”) grounded the action in the remembered past.
Byam Stevens’ unobtrusive, no-fingerprints direction makes it more likely audiences will respond to his wish that they become engaged by the actors and the overall production.
This review underscores that lady’s “Ahh”
The Nibroc Trilogy continues with See Rock City (July 28-August 8) and Gulf View Drive (August 11-12)
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Arlene Hutton's award-winning comedy tracks May and Raleigh's romance through years of missed connections. Nominated by the new York Drama League for
Best Play of 1999, it was a smash hit at CTC in 2001.
And it is again. -- DBT