By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
photo by Tim Fuller
Damian Garcia and Samantha Cormier create deep feelings with true emotions at Invisible Theatre.
He wants to become a writer. She wants to become a missionary. Each wishing in their own way to make society a better place. Then they meet serendipitous when he takes the last seat on the train, the seat next to hers, and innocently asks the title of the book she is reading.
But why was that seat empty? Did no one ever want to sit next to her? She got on board back in Los Angeles and here they are, way east of Chicago. Even though she is quite pretty, that seat is still empty.
Well, it was Dec. 28, 1940, when train passengers were expected to dress nicely and gentlemen of any consequence always respected a lady's privacy. This is the time and culture Invisible Theatre brings to us in the compelling and heartwarming “Last Train to NIBROC” by Arlene Hutton.
Kentucky boy Raleigh (Damian Garcia) is planning to ride right on through his home state and go straight to New York City to seek his fortune. What does he care about manners?
He thinks she looks pretty cute. But Raleigh does want her to know that he knows about manners. So he speaks cautiously.
Her name is May (Samantha Cormier). She went to Los Angeles to get married, but that didn't work out. Now she is coming back home to Corbin, Kentucky, feeling shamed and ashamed by her situation.
She seems to like the look of Raleigh, though, in his somewhat military uniform. But she's convinced he must be up to no good if he just starts talking to her for no good reason.
The next 85 minutes that we spend in the company of these two, directed by Susan Claassen, are pure delight.
In a series of three scenes that span three years, May and Raleigh give completely compelling performances playing peek-a-boo personalities hiding behind the social conventions of their time, uncertain how much of their true selves they should be revealing.
Neither of them can decide if it is worth the risk of letting down their guard. Then just as one of them decides it is not, the other one will say something so totally irresistible the first one is drawn back into being interested – so their conversation continues and, OK, the guard is dropped a little lower. Maybe, just kinda sorta, both can't help feeling this might be working out.
Of course, every time that happens, we learn a little more about each of them. Raleigh has just been given a medical discharge from the Army. He's still wearing his uniform, stripped of rank and insignia.
In basic training it was discovered he had epilepsy, activated by sudden loud noises and bright flashing lights. It's not a manly condition to have.
Her journey of dedication to serve the Lord is broadened by Raleigh's secular observations on life, and also by learning her own church minister felt entitled to keep some of the congregation's good will contributions for the church's work.
Raleigh grew up in a town near Corbin. He has cousins who are May's neighbors. NIBROC is Corbin's annual community fair. Raleigh goes every year, but May never has.
She believes it is a Satanic ritual with drinking and all sorts of carrying on. Patiently, Raleigh explains the event is family fun and Nibroc is just Corbin spelled backwards.
As the character strengths of May and Raleigh are filled in and strengthened, we gradually come to appreciate how Hutton the playwright has created so much life using the most gracious and humorous language. The sort seldom heard on stage anymore.
IT's production becomes a valuable reminder that even in a society wracked by enormous social change – whether it is World War II or right now – human nature will hold strong and stay stable. Hope will always be an essential part of life.
"The Last Train to NIBROC” continues through Nov. 3 at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 25, Wednesday-Saturday, Oct. 30-Nov. 2: matinees are 3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Oct. 26-Oct. 27 and Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 2-3.
All tickets are $35, with group discounts available. For details and reservations, invisibletheatre.com and 882-9721.