The meeting of Raleigh and May in this play, Last Train to Nibroc, reminds me of the 1938 movie Holiday. There Cary Grant meets a vivacious woman played by Katherine Hepburn. After many tribulations they finally kiss, just like in this play by Arlene Hutton.
And like several Cary Grant movies there is lots of seemingly pointless banter going on, but it’s actually all quite relevant. Despite a slow start it’s obvious the sparks are flying even in the first act. Hutton has written that she has based the two characters on her own parents, who in real life had been falling in love at the same time, namely the early 1940s. The tone of the times is set by two brief excerpts of radio speeches by Pres. Franklin Roosevelt.
Unlike a Cary Grant movie, these characters are quite devoid of high-brow engagement. They are, quite literally, Kentucky hicks. Even though May is a teacher, and is eventually promoted to be principal of her school, she is a bit dim-witted, while he is more sophisticated than he appears to be. He certainly knows how to lead her in conversation, which is not easy with a woman who keeps apologizing and saying “you’re laughing at me.”
Her shifts of mood are so mercurial one wonders what Raleigh sees in her. Even he admits that at their second encounter, some 18 months after the first meeting on a train, she has turned from “weeping willow to prickly blackberry bush.” May responds with a line that got a big laugh from the Tucson audience: “I’m not mean, I’m religious!”
This play is a refreshing change, in that it is non-controversial and non-explicit. It embodies what playwright Hutton set out to do, giving us a story where we can discover “the the ‘good old days’ were not so simple and that stories of love and forgiveness are universal.” It is a tale of how two young people in the midst of World War II, each with their own set of problems (his medical, hers spiritual) can work through those problems and finally arrive at a meeting of minds. Damian Garcia as Raleigh and Samantha Cormier as May carry it off beautifully against a backdrop of literary allusions, home-cooked meals by her family, and a distant fire that stands as a totemic image of their kindling love embers.
Last Train to Nibroc is being performed until Nov. 3, 2019
Visit the website for tickets: invisibletheatre.com
Photo credit: Tim Fuller