Reviewed by Jerry Kraft
Arlene Hutton's "Last Train to Nibroc" is an exceptionally big achievement in exceptionally small, low-scale drama. It's the story of two people who meet on a train during World War II, come closer and then move farther apart, unsuccessfully attempt romance, grow individually as human beings and then re-engage their relationship. The staging is pure simplicity, a train-seat for the first scene, a bench for the second, an all but bare stage for the third.
The play is all talk, usually a deadly flaw for drama. But these simple elements, the actor and the text, are always at the service of an even more elemental intention of the theatre; "Last Train to Nibroc" makes us understand and care about two people and what they mean to each other. It reveals their hopes and ambitions and frailties in a way that constantly intrigues and satisfies, and it leads us to a resolution that makes each of them better, more complete people. They may talk a lot, but they also listen to each other, and this gifted playwright gives us words that sparkle and delight and move us with their truth and insight. The words make us want to hear, and so the questions of whether or not May and Raleigh will be together, whether they will succeed in their ambitions, whether their hopes of living in a bigger world will ever be realized become questions we genuinely care about. My best college theatre professor used to say that all he asked from an evening in the theatre was to be moved or amused. This marvelous play is delightfully amusing and deeply, genuinely moving.
Timothy Horner is perfectly cast as Raleigh, whom we first see as a young soldier returning from the War. In his neat dress uniform, he looks just like that uncle or father or grandfather in those black and white pictures in all our family albums. With his cocky self-assurance, bright-eyed humor and quick mind, he's dangerously charming to a nice girl like May, and she's suitably reticent about encouraging him. But they are headed for the same place, and they certainly do seem to have some sparks between them. Charity Parenzini, as May, is a decent, well-grounded young woman, a woman with values and ideals, beautiful without glamour, cute without being coy, innocent but not entirely na_ve.
For a show that is about nothing more than two people and their personal interaction, these two actors give us so much richness and variety, with such subtlety and technical control that the evening never feels sparse, but on the contrary, generous and bountiful. Both Mr. Horner and Ms. Parenzini have wonderfully expressive faces, and there is splendid control over the proportion of the acting, so nothing ever seems forced or artificial. These performances ask us to look closely, and to interpret and infer great amounts of information about these two people and their lives based on our own insights as an audience. That's a very high level of performance, and profoundly engaging.
The action of this play is not really what people do, but what we learn about them as a result of what they do. Frankly, I don't want to go through a step by step of the events of the play, or even the rather surprising course of development in their relationship. Central to the enormous pleasure of this play is the discovery of each layer in their personalities, the surprising but entirely appropriate choices they make in their lives, the gradual emergence of meaning and consequence as a result of those choices and earned understandings.
Of course, this kind of dramatic precision requires not only a great script and fine acting, but direction that is authentic and authoritative. Karen Lund is, in my opinion, perhaps the most under-appreciated director in Seattle. She never misses a beat in this play, never over-accentuates a gesture, never lets the action (minimal as it is physically) sag or overstay its welcome. She knows actors and their needs, and beyond that, she knows how to guide them into dramatic relationships where their performances always feel natural and their actions inevitable. This is the kind of theatre where nothing essential can be hidden by production or theatrical artifice. This play, these actors, this superb director - it's all the real deal.
Go see "Last Train to Nibroc". There are plenty of bigger shows in town, plenty of shows with more "dramatic" action and more raucous, razzmatazz entertainment value, plenty with bigger bigger and more more, but you won't find anything right now that is more satisfyingly human, more remarkably well-crafted, and more emotionally gratifying than this tiny show about two people who come into each other's lives and make a difference.