Train in vain
Chico Cabaret breaks its musical form with intimate two-character Last Train to Nibroc
It’s a familiar story: Two strangers meet on a train and change each other’s destiny.
In a break from the multi-performer musical that the Chico Cabaret specializes in, Arlene Hutton’s Last Train to Nibroc is an intimate character study set in 1940s America. Directed by the Cabaret’s artistic director, Phil Ruttenberg, this production of Nibroc had two actors, Douglas Anderson and Cabaret newcomer Jillian Hodnett, and that’s it.
The only props are different seats setting generic scenes while the sparks created by the attraction/friction between Anderson’s young soldier Raleigh and Hodnett’s prudish May ignite an extended dialogue between these oddly paired people who chance upon one another on a cross-country train ride.
Raleigh, a recently medically discharged pilot, is humiliated at the prospect of having to return home to Kentucky due to a new propensity to get “the fits” around blinking lights. He’s also a budding writer, and before meeting May he’d decided that the coincidence of riding the same train as the recently departed corpses of authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Nathanael West (not to mention that he was loathe to face his family) was a sign he should detour upon a literary journey of his own and stay on the train to “New York City!”
Anderson handles Raleigh’s conflicting emotions perfectly; he’s quick-witted and brooding in that perfect Jimmy Stewart way, with wide-eyed wanderlust deflected by a growing unshaven bitterness.
Hodnett plays the naïvely myopic May (also returning home to Kentucky) with a deer-in-the-headlights demeanor that belies the one-track moral obstinateness she defends for herself and judges others so harshly with.
As the journey progresses, the couple’s differences slowly begin to become complements, as their cat-and-mouse dialogue alternates between a sweet, flirtatious humor and heated moral bickering. Eventually it leads to a promise to meet up at the annual fair in May’s hometown of Corbin—the Nibroc (Corbin spelled backward) Festival.
The final two scenes move ahead a couple years, and we find that the different personalities (and family backgrounds), the difficulties of living during a time of war and Raleigh’s epilepsy have sent the couple on different paths. Without giving too much away, I can say they do meet up several times on this convoluted path (even at the Nibroc Festival), and there is eventually a sense of peace as the simplicity of small-town life comes to terms with some of the complexities of the changing country.
A fine offering from Ruttenburg and the Cabaret. And a nice change of pace.