The Towne Players of Garner will repeat their hit production of Last Train to Nibroc, directed by Beth Honeycutt, Aug. 21-23. Written in 1998 but set just before and during World War II, playwright Arlene Hutton's delightful old-fashioned 90-minute romantic comedy (which is performed without intermission) stars Rob Smith and Janet Doughty as two twenty-somethings from adjacent small towns in rural eastern Kentucky who meet for the first time on an overcrowded train heading east from Los Angeles.
Honeycutt's savvy staging and bravura performances by Smith as the smooth-talking ex-U.S. Army aviator and would-be writer Raleigh and Doughty as the deeply religious and bookish May earned The Towne Players' Sept. 14-22, 2001 presentation a prominent place among the "Top 10 Shows of 2001," selected by yours truly for Spectator Magazine.
"This is a really wonderful show with wonderful performances," says director Beth Honeycutt. "Janet and Rob and I have had great fun revisiting these characters. We won't have the live bluegrass music between scenes. (Have you ever tried to pin musicians down?) But I think it will be a really nice show."
Honeycutt recalls, "We did the show in September, 2001, just a few days after the 9/11 tragedies. The show is so special [that] I knew I wanted to bring it back during less stressful times.
"I love the simplicity of this show," Honeycutt confesses. "The story is sweet, funny, and nostalgic. I also adore working with Rob and Janet. They are both such cerebral actors. We have spent hours discussing these characters and their motivations."
Honeycutt briefly outlines the plot as follows: "Raleigh (Rob Smith) and May (Janet Doughty) meet on a train in the middle of the night on December 28, 1940. He is being discharged from the Army and longs to be a writer; she is leaving behind a former fiancée and hopes to be a missionary. The two find they have more in common than one might suspect. The show follows the twists and turns in their relationship over the span of a few years."
Beth Honeycutt, with a big technical assist from her husband, Scott, is having a grand old time revisiting Last Train to Nibroc. "This show has been a breeze," she admits. "How often do you hear a director say that?"
She adds, "The set is as simple as the show. I wanted it to look soft and hazy, like an old memory. We use one bench for all three scenes. Behind the bench is a sheer shimmery gold curtain. Scott uses footlights to create effects."
My original review reads in part: "Throughout three short scenes, set a year or so apart, Raleigh and May prove over and over that you can take the girl out of the small town, but you can never take the small town out of the girl.
"Doughty is cute as a speckled pup as May, ... who bravely journeyed all by herself from Corbin, Ky., to the City of Angels to spend Christmas with her (now) former boyfriend — a U.S. Army aviator in training, who acquired some nasty habits since joining up.
"Smith is superlative as Raleigh, a handsome... ex-U.S. Army aviator who could charm the birds right down out of the trees. Raleigh, who wants to go to New York and become a writer, is delighted to be on a train with the coffins of two of his literary heroes: F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Nathaniel West (Day of the Locust). But there is something irresistible about May that causes Raleigh to change his plans and return home, so he can court her.
"Watching Rob Smith and Janet Doughty really sink their teeth into these meaty roles is one of the great pleasures of The Towne Players' production of Last Train to Nibroc.... Listening to Doughty and Smith mercilessly tease each other and bicker good-naturedly while they fall in love is a real treat. Watching their off-and-on relationship grow and evolve — as they face a variety of internal and external pressures — is a true delight."
The Towne Players of Garner present Last Train to Nibroc Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 21-23, at 8 p.m. in The Garner Historic Auditorium, 742 West Garner Rd., Garner, North Carolina. $8 ($6 seniors). 919/779-6144. http://www.towneplayers.org/.