While Arlene Hutton’s play, Last Train to Nibroc, is new to Cincinnati, it’s been around for almost a decade. (It’s had more than 50 regional productions since 2000.) The two-actor, 90-minute script charmed audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and its simplicity appeals to theaters today because it’s inexpensive to produce, requiring minimal scenery. But it’s rich in the emotion and storytelling that audiences respond to.
On a cross-country train ride in 1940, Raleigh (Timothy Kiefer) invites himself to share a seat with May (Dana Acheson). She grudgingly enters into a conversation with the lanky soldier and they discover they’re from adjacent towns in rural Kentucky. She’s headed home after a failed romance; Raleigh has been discharged from the military for health reasons and is traveling to New York City
He teases her; she puts him off, but he persists. Subsequent scenes in 1942 and 1943 reveal bumps in their on-again, off-again romance. It’s not hard to detect that Raleigh and May’s story will have a happy ending, but the course of their relationship is neither predictable nor boring.
Kiefer captures Raleigh’s winning earnestness, but underscores it with a secret vulnerability. Acheson’s May is naive and judgmental, but her feisty wit is evident, too. When she returns his joshing, he’s surprised: “You can tease the dog,” she shoots at him, “but you don’t like its bark.” Hutton gives her characters dialogue with the ring of everyday speech from the 1940s, and Kiefer and Acheson breathe life into each moment.
Raleigh, an aspiring writer, tells May that their train is bearing the bodies of two novelists, Nathaniel West and F. Scot Fitzgerald (both died a week before Nibroc’s first scene). He bemuses her with his literary insights about them and teases her about Magnificent Obsession, the religious romance she is reading — and hiding behind. The distance between them narrows as they discover more about one another, although the outcome is jeopardized by stubborn pride on both sides.
Last Train to Nibroc is a sweet but believable love story that feels perfect for springtime.
LAST TRAIN TO NIBROC, presented by Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, continues through April 26. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.