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Last Train to Nibroc at Little Lake

If you’re going to trod such well-worn ground, you’d better bring something new to the party


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Playwright Arlene Hutton sets herself a near-impossible task with her 1999 play Last Train to Nibroc, making its Pittsburgh debut at Little Lake Theatre.

In 1940, two strangers meet on a train. May is a young lady returning from Los Angeles to Kentucky. She’d traveled west to see her fiancé but something happened, and she’s going home to nurse some emotional bruises. Raleigh is a young man who has just been discharged from the service for reasons not made entirely clear, and he’s heading to New York to become a writer. The train is packed and what do you know, the only available seat just happens to be next to May. The two strike up awkward conversation … and if you can’t guess what comes next, you haven’t read a book, seen a play, TV show or movie in the last 5,000 years.

And that’s Hutton’s problem — there’s not a dramatic moment she’s written which we haven’t run across many, many times before. Which isn’t to say that Hutton, or any playwright, shouldn’t make the attempt. But if you’re going to trod such well-worn ground, you’d better bring something new to the party.

I can’t say that Hutton does. This is a very soft, meditative two-character exercise which, by design, is as unadorned as you can get. Additionally, Hutton indulges in some eye-rolling “coincidences” to kick the plot into gear, and then invents an assortment of emotional obstacles to keep her lovebirds from winding up in a clinch too soon.

But even though I don’t think Hutton has cracked it, there is something to be said for the several moments of quiet beauty in the script. Director Jim Critchfield and his cast — Leighann Calamera and Connor McNelis — work hand-in-glove with Hutton’s vision. All three together do summon up Hutton’s hushed, still theatricality. Calamera does a remarkable job growing the character right in front of us, from observer to motivated force. McNelis compellingly portrays Raleigh’s intense yearning imprisoned by circumstance.

It’s by no means a bad play. Last Train to Nibroc’s chief misfortune is showing up late at a 5,000-year-old party.


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