Last Train to Nibroc
Last Train to Nibroc
By Arlene Hutton
Presented at the Varscona Theatre
Adam Burgess and Kendra Connor
Directed by John Sproule
Produced by Wayne Paquette
Production Design by Maya Jarvis
Sound Design by Jon Lachlan Stewart
Stage Managed by Jenn Best
Nominated for 1 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award
Outstanding Independent Production (Blarney Productions)
VUE WEEKLY – Paul Blinov
A potent simplicity is at the heart of Blarney Theatre’s The Last Train to Nibroc: there are no world-turning dramatics or game-changing twists, but none feel necessary. What we have instead is a script that takes a minimalist approach to the sweeping love story: two young people meet and something sparks—in this case, they spend the rest of their enjoyable stagetime together fanning those hints of a flame.
We meet Raleigh and May as they meet each other on a crowded train speeding across America. He plunks down in the only remaining seat (beside her, nose buried in a book) and begins the conversation that, essentially, makes up the bulk of the play. The script’s engaging enough to require little else: set in the ‘40s, war is ever present in the periphery and affects both character’s lives, but never directly interferes in the story arc.
It’s the duo’s banter and disagreements that make up Last Train’s dramatic arc, and playwright Arlene Hutton’s characters are strong enough to make banter alone engaging: they give each other more than enough grief (she’s uptight but he’s a bit of a rascal) and the disconnect between the two gets pretty fun—it’s a testament to the strength of both the script and the cast that Friday night’s tiny audience was frequently lit with pockets of laughter. When the characters find common ground, though, the atmosphere noticeably shifts to something a little more tender, even when they’re still arguing.
The set is unchanging: just a triple-purpose bench that acts as train seat, outdoor bench and porch chair, lit sparsely. The stark atmosphere created by the set is suitable, a simple location that gives the actors a place to let the drama unfold. That puts quite a load onto the two actors, of course, but the pair here is capable of carrying the show on conversation alone.
Kendra Connor, in particular, shoulders the dramatic burden effortlessly. As the up-nosed May, she’s delightful (for us) and bitter (often, to Raleigh) as she gets mad and sputters: “I’m not mean, I’m religious!” she cries in a last line of defence in flawless belle accent. Connor never loses that strong character, even as her subtext shifts, as it often does, from pining to pissed off to somewhere in between.
Adam Burgess, too, has moments as Raleigh, though he doesn’t quite have the pull that Connor does. But when he conjures up mischievous charm, the chemistry deepens and the moments they find together are beautiful.
There’s a few story tilts that lack the emotional punch they’re written to have, but that’s background nitpicking at best when the script leans so heavily on the actors and they deliver. Do people ever meet like this anymore? The Last Train to Nibroc makes me hope so.
THE EDMONTON SUN – Colin MacLean
Arlene Hutton’s The Last Train to Nibroc is a sweet romance in which two very dissimilar people are thrust together at seminal moments .
The play is a production of the small Edmonton company, Blarney Productions, which has brought us such Fringe sparklers as Orange Flower Water and The Christian Brothers.
Christmas. 1940. Raleigh (Adam Burgess) is an airman mustered out because he suffers from “the fits.” (It’s called epilepsy today but was misunderstood in those years and some sufferers were thrown into mental hospitals).
He finds himself on the train with May (Kendra Connor), who is burning with religious fervour and returning to Kentucky after a disastrous visit with her boyfriend.
“People who go away change,” she sadly observes.
The two converse. He changes his mind about going home – there are two bodies on the train, the writers, F. Scott Fitz-gerald and Nathaniel West. Raleigh sees it as a sign that he’s going through to New York to become a writer.
May is clutching her book, Magnificent Obsession, by the religious author Lloyd C. Douglas. She vaguely hopes to become a missionary.
He’s laid-back, laconic, open-minded and friendly. She’s so clenched she seems to be collapsing in on herself.
Their on-again, off-again relationship continues as they meet a year later, back home.
His “fits” have driven him from the big city and she’s making her way as a teacher.
They talk and squabble. He calls her “prickly.”She screams, “Your father’s a drinker.” He suggests she’s “mean.” She replies, “I’m not mean. I’m religious.”
This is obviously not a romance set on a smooth course. There is never any doubt how their relationship will conclude but the way the play gets there is delightful and even a little surprising.
May and Raleigh’s innocence and decency prove contagiously moving and funny.
The Last Train to Nibroc, like older relatives Tally’s Folly and Salt Water Moon, is less interested in theatrical exercises than in touching hearts.
Connor gives us just enough to let us see that there may be a heart beating behind all those religious platitudes. And she nails and keeps the Jimmy Swaggart accent throughout. Burgess is one of those actors that makes it all look so easy.
The Last Train to Nibroc is mostly a long conversation. The single set of a bench immobilizes the actors but this is a good thing: it lets skilled director John Sproule focus on the two characters.
There always remains some doubt as to where the trip will finally take these two but the journey is certainly worthwhile.
4 Suns out of 5.
VUE WEEKLY – Dave Berry
Drama doesn’t need to be complicated. Sometimes all you really need are two people and a place to talk. Or at least that’s what John Sproule has found as he’s led his pair of young actors through rehearsals for Blarney Theatre’s latest production, The Last Train to Nibroc.
“You know, it’s just an old-fashioned story,” Sproule explains, lounging leisurely backstage after a day of rehearsals. His young charges, Adam Burgess and Kendra Connor, who play the duelling 1940s Kentucky smalltowners that populate the surfacedly simple play, sit akimbo, soaking in his ruminations. “It’s not necessarily hard-cutting or edgy, there’s just a well-made playness about it. I mean, people actually just talk for a sustained period of time.”
Of course, there’s really no such thing as just talking, especially not in the theatre. Though it’s true frustrated flyer/writer Raleigh (Burgess) and smalltown ingenue May (Connor) do little but sit beside each other and chat, in their easy though occasionally prickly conversations personalities are being tried out and discarded, decisions argued and made, lives lived and regretted.
It’s the kind of talk, both director and cast agree, that’s not only rare in the theatre these days—all three speak somewhat derisively of drama that “needs a gun or drugs or something” as Connor succinctly puts it, to heighten tension—but even in our everyday lives. In a time before mass communication, even simple conversations can take on a great importance.
“There’s something really indisposable about it,” offers Sproule. “The conversations are rich and laden, because they’re so much more immediate.”
“Yeah, for instance, when I decide in the first scene to go back with her to Kentucky, that’s huge, but this day and age, it would just be like, ‘Okay, give me your last name so I can Facebook you,’” agrees Burgess. “Even just chatting with someone is so much more important—and maybe better—because if you really need to follow up on this girl, if this is the one, you have to do it now. With Facebook, it’d just be him getting little status updates.”
The extensive conversation brings other advantages to the play as well. Nibroc is very much a human drama, sharply focused on something that, while outwardly rather inconsequential, is nevertheless of the utmost of importance to its two characters: a burgeoning love between them. But this is no storybook romance, perfect eyes meeting perfect smile and skipping towards the perfect wedding. Raleigh and May are distinctly human, young people, people dealing with the slow realization of disappointment, coming to grips with their own personalities and attempting, however clumsily, to find some kind of comfort, if not necessarily salvation, in one another.
“One of the things I love is that it’s unapologetic in the flaws of the characters,” says Sproule. “Both of them have significant flaws, but that leads to terribly human, realistic conversations, and at the core there’s a kind of nobility in their normalness. They get petty, they get angry, they get hurt.”
“I think in a lot of love stories you see, the love is already there, but then it’s a lot of outside obstacles to keep it from happening,” elaborates Burgess. “In this play, though, it’s just the two of us looking at each other like, ‘You’re such a … wha … why? Ahh.’”
“Exactly: they affect each other, good or bad,” agrees Sproule. “There’s an attraction, there’s a lot energy, but they get under each other’s skin—they really affect each other, which creates something special, for them and the audience. It really quietly captures you with a kind of a force and an emotional suspense that really draws you in, the same way it happens in life.”