by Brian Sonia-Wallace~
Raleigh (Frank Krueger) has been discharged from the army for medical reasons and is heading to New York to become a writer, separated by his illness from the men of his generation fighting in the Second World War. On the train he meets May (Rebecca Lane), a small-town girl with a religious streak and dreams of making more of herself. Arlene Hutton’s 1999 play unfolds over three scenes that see the characters reunited through the years and creates a portrait of the times, helped along by sound designer Timothy Sprague’s effective use of war-era songs and ambient sounds. From Ken Patton’s costumes to the impressive Kentucky drawls, Last Train to Nibroc creates an immersive world. Even the way the characters change onstage behind screens in the scene changes creates an air of anticipation and—dare I say it?—veiled eroticism that is in keeping with the era. The world isn’t just a backdrop for the characters; they truly seem to be of it. The story doesn’t try too hard to be universal, and its painstaking specificity is its great strength. The play draws us in and reminds us that all good theater needs to do is honestly tell a human story and let the audience will find meaning in it themselves.
Mr. Krueger and Ms. Lane carry the show with subtle, pitch-perfect performances. Mr. Kreuger’s Raleigh is charismatic above all, flitting back and forth between flirtation, shame, and simple salt-of-the-earth stubbornness with an agility that make him a joy to watch. Ms. Lane’s May is equally enthralling. Though quieter, she manages to make dower look charming as her suspiciousness melts into bouts of mirth. The characters metamorphose between each scene, shedding some dreams and finding others, but persisting so strongly in their own way that we can’t help but root for them. The play is Americana through-and-through, and it centers on two people with dreams pursued, deferred, and lost. It addresses the types of bravery it takes to face each of these fates, and the drama comes from how changing goals serve as catalysts or roadblocks for sincere human interaction. And what is striking about both actors’ performances is their sincerity.
Last Train to Nibroc faces some missteps along the way, but they never derail the show. The projections that accompany the opening sixty seconds are superfluous and misplaced, a warning that the growing trend of ‘multimedia’ isn’t appropriate for every show. Ryan Siebrasse’s set is simple and elegantly transforms between the play’s three locales, but somehow always seems too big for the two actors inhabiting it, who only venture into its corners for scene changes. And, while the first two scenes are fully fleshed out and disconcertingly real, the third scene and resolution don’t quite match up with what’s come before. While this final portion is the most poetic and opens up a lot of the themes previously explored, it leaves us with the somewhat unsatisfactory final message that love conquers all because it just does. Granted, if the writing hadn’t sparkled with such great dirty-fingernails realism throughout, this wouldn’t have been an issue.
Director Kerr Seth Lordygan’s staging is highly competent, naturally showcasing the actors and advancing the action. The pacing delivers an engaging balance of laughs and high drama, lagging only in the drawn-out scene changes. Both characters in the story start out on the train from Los Angeles, but for the most part the play speaks to Southern small-town fears and aspirations and to America in the 1940s. My personal bias makes me want to ask the creative team behind Last Train to Nibroc, “Why this play? Why now? Why here?” But I suspect the play itself answers that: Because a human story, honestly told, finds relevance in any time and anywhere.
Last Train to Nibrocis performed Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 7:00 pm, and runs through May 20th, 2012. Also Thursday, April 19 at 8pm, dark on April 28.
The Eclectic Company Theatre is located at 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd. (between Chandler and Magnolia), Valley Village, CA 91607
Ticket prices: $18.00 general admission, $15 students and seniors. Pay what you can April 19 and 29.
Reservations online at www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org or by phone at (818) 508-3003.