For summer 2016, the San Diego theatre company, Different Stages, selected two comedies that incorporate humor and pathos. Earlier this season at Lamplighter’s Community Theatre, Jerry Pilato directed a friendship dramedy, The Dixie Swim Club. Currently, Pilato is at the helm of an old-fashioned love story, Last Train to Nibroc.
Opening on December 28, 1940, a religious bookworm, May (Lindsey O’Connor), is on a train heading towards her home in eastern Kentucky. Along the way, she meets a discharged air force pilot and aspiring writer, Raleigh (Chad Theriault), who develops a crush on her. He is on the train because the bodies of the beloved authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathaniel West, are onboard.
Raleigh convinces May to join him at Kentucky’s annual Nibroc Festival. Although the potential couple appears destined to live happily ever after, their lives become more complicated than they ever expected.
Before Last Train to Nibroc, Different Stages only once before produced a play at the La Jolla Commons Theatre. Located at the Congregational Church of La Jolla, the venue works for small-scale tales like Arelene Hutton’s narrative.
Hutton’s plot was published in 2000, yet the script feels like it could have been written decades ago. References to pop culture, World War II, and religion come up naturally in the conversations between May and Raleigh.
Pilato’s deceptively simple direction puts the focus squarely on May and Raleigh’s relationship. And he successfully picked
the right actors to star in his rendition.
Initially wishy washy and reserved, May grows into her own over the course of several years. O’Connor displays plenty of versatility depicting the different sides of the devout Christian.
Theriault’s Raleigh is an optimistic good ol’ boy who wants to positively influence May. Early on, Theriault’s almost non-stop smiling can be a little distracting. Yet, his funny happy-go-lucky personality ends up being affecting throughout the 80-minute running time.
Without strong chemistry, Last Train to Nibroc would not work. O’Connor and Theriault make an irresistible pair, sometimes just from lovingly glancing at the other.
Instead of an expansive set, Mark Robertson built a bench to establish a variety of locations from a park to a front porch. Having so little scenery gives Last Train to Nibroc an intimate atmosphere that could not have been achieved in a larger space.
Steve Murdock’s audio features relaxing music and sound effects. However, their most touching contribution is the inclusion of a newsreel announcer in the introduction. Having the Great War backdrop indicates that Hutton does not intend to provide pure escapism.
Both May and Raleigh are personally impacted by WWII. Their contrasting experiences add to their slowly forming bond.
Obstacles get in the way of happiness between the potential couple, but none of the issues are overly dramatic. Every conflict they face is realistic and relatable. Whenever problems occur, theatregoers root for them to overcome their difficulties.
Anyone in the mood for a genuinely charming and romantic evening should plan on seeing Last Train to Nibroc. After an Off-Broadway run, Hutton wrote two more shows about the continuing adventures of May and Raleigh. Different Stages should consider bringing the rest of the sweet trilogy to San Diego.