Chemistry lesson

Last Train to Nibroc

Jason Kuykendall as Raleigh, Amy Tribbey as May in <i>Last Train to Nibroc</i>: “Coffee-flavored kisses and a bit of conversation …”

Jason Kuykendall as Raleigh, Amy Tribbey as May in Last Train to Nibroc: “Coffee-flavored kisses and a bit of conversation …”

Rated 5.0

Last Train to Nibroc is something we haven’t seen for quite a while at the B Street Theatre—an honest-to-god love story, and nicely told at that. Not to be confused with one of those snarky little romantic comedies, with affluent, world-weary urbanites speaking lines that are long on attitude and short on substance, that have cluttered up the B Street stage so often in recent years.

Nibroc features an altogether different—and far more memorable—pair. For starters, they’re from rural Kentucky, circa the early 1940s, neither a fashionable place nor time. The woman aspires to be a missionary, and has her eye on other marriage prospects. The man—who intended to become a pilot—has been discharged from the military on medical grounds, and is trying to find his feet in life.

Arlene Hutton’s compact script (two characters, one hour and 20 minutes, no intermission) was written in the ’90s and plays off the advancing shadow of WWII through small-town America, where love can carry people to the wrong side of the tracks, and little local summer festivals assume a bittersweet tinge as young men disappear to fight halfway round the world. The play echoes Lanford Wilson’s Talley’s Folly, another two-hander that helped establish the B Street about 10 years back, and takes a page from William Inge’s Picnic. The background of disaster works well post-9/11, a stroke of luck for the playwright.

This production takes full advantage of handsome actor Jason Kuykendall, who morphs through a punishing string of setbacks as the male lead, wincing as he absorbs life’s blows, but ultimately landing on his feet with dreams diminished but sense intact.

Playing opposite is actress Amy Tribbey, a graduate of the B Street’s Fantasy Theatre made good who now is working around the country. She’s a contrast of restrictive body language—locked arms, curled posture—giving way to blurted, truthful statements. But despite the cagey outward layers, her character is very giving—even sacrificing—in a religious way … a rare image in the jaded world of theater.

Kuykendall and Tribbey generate tremendous personal chemistry. And director Buck Busfield, who has long been a magician with dialogue, channels these resources into some really snappy exchanges, taking full advantage of Kentucky accents and misplaced rural grammar.

Last Train to Nibroc also stands as a wonderful contrast to the previous B Street effort The Beauty Queen of Leenane, which was a dark, dramatic blockbuster. You have to wonder: What has come over artistic director Buck Busfield? After playing it safe for a very long while with commercial but artistically diminishing scripts, Busfield’s somehow snapped out of it, and has posted two very strong and entirely different shows, back-to-back. Go figure. And enjoy.