In December, 1940, the bodies of two prominent American writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathaniel West were shipped cross country in a railcar. This strangely titled piece is the first of a trilogy about a couple who meet on that train from California, their destination, Corbin, Kentucky.
Once Raleigh, a discharged soldier with budding writing interests of his own discovers that nugget of information leaked from a porter, he’s eager to share the news, taking it as an affirmative sign for his own writing destiny. The only available seat left on the crowded train is next to the quiet, reticent May who barely looks up, her head buried in a book. And the dance begins. This sweet script by Arlene Hutton seems to shout, in its quiet mannerly way, that things happen for a reason and can open life to all kinds of possibilities, .
The two excellent actors do justice in defining the characters. Lexi Langs plays May with a solid dignity laced with touches of vulnerability. May presents a veneer of shy social gracefulness, wearing her traveling white gloves and delicate crescent hat, apprehensive about this stranger’s approach. She periodically retreats back to her book, but is intrigued by this earnest soldier and his story and ever so slowly finds the courage to share some of her own.
Wood Van Meter is a wonderful complement as Raleigh, traveling in his uniform but no longer in a regiment. Like a young James Stewart, he is tall and lanky, all arms and legs, with eyebrows that relay earnest surprise and eyes that flash with giddy excitement. The two share an instant rapport as they realize they’re from nearby hometowns in Kentucky, and they both also have baggage to deal with upon their return. Raleigh intends to zoom through the mid-country and his past and try his luck in New York following the spirits of the writers laying in state just several rail cars away from his seat. May is more grounded and plans to reckon with her family, her faith, and life’s limitations. They part only to re-connect over the next several years as their circumstances evolve and their stories continue to unfold.
The ebb and flow of the characters as they learn about each other and trust themselves to care and share is beautifully orchestrated by director Bill Largess.
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Last Train to Nibroc
closes February 19, 2017
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The characters are at different places in their lives in the next two scenes and their body language and costumes by Sigrid Jóhannesdóttir reflect their transitions. They’re squeezed on a train car seat when they meet, but can move around and behind the park bench in the next scene and are home free on May’s home porch by the end.
Video projections on both sides of the stage reflect train cars, park foliage, and even battle posters of impending wartime. Sound designer Frank Disalvo, Jr creates an aural collage of early big band jazz between scenes and an announcement of the Pearl Harbor bombing Day of Infamy. May and Raleigh are affected by these world events with food rations, loved ones in battle and personal regrets.
Still, they find ways to listen to each other and alter their paths. May even finally attends the celebrated Nibroc Festival, something she always considered off-color before Raleigh’s entreaties to try it– he also helps her see that the weird name is just the town spelled backwards.
The actors have a comfortable rapport with each other and they both bring out the poetic cadence of the script which repeats phrases like a melodic refrain. Just when you think they might become a couple, one of the characters digs deep in old patterns of mistrust or misunderstanding and they back away, only to find themselves reconnected later on and then something else pops up. Only, each time they’ve shared a little more history and gotten a little closer, enough for the spiral of possibility to tighten around them to finally admit their mutual affection. The dynamic works because of the high caliber of all aspects of the production designers matched with the excellent performers.
Washington Stage Guild’s first production of the New Year is tinged with the tragic loss of company member Trisha L. McCauley – memories of working with her graced the production and blessed all who have seen her work at the Washington Stage Guild over the years. A loving tribute in the program provides a way to serve her memory by supporting fellow theater artists in her honor. Last Train to Nibroc is a loving reminder of the impermanence and beauty of life and love, and nudges us to grab it all when, where, and however we can.
Last Train to Nibroc by Arlene Hutton . Directed by Bill Largess . Cast: Wood Van Meter and Lexi Langs . Lighting Design: Marianne Meadows . Scenic Design: Jingwei Dai . Costume Designer: Sigrid Jóhannesdóttir . Sound Engineer: Frank Dasalvo, Jr. . Stage Manager: Arthur Nordlie . Produced by Washington Stage Guild . Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson.