Last Train to Nibroc: The complexities of love and war in the South

Written by: Samantha Burgess, editor in chief

*Warning: this review contains mild spoilers for Last Train to Nibroc

The Bryan College Hilltop Players put on the first three performances of their production of Last Train to Nibroc on Jan. 23-25.

Last Train to Nibroc, a production written by Arlene Hutton in 2000, tells the story of two strangers, Raeleigh and May, meeting on a train. Set in the war period of the 1940s, this Southern story highlights the importance of each choice we make and the power of love and fate.

Raleigh (Hendrix) and May (Swan) in scene two, set in the summer of 1942.

Raeleigh, played by Isaac Hendrix, is a boisterous soldier who dreams of being a writer. May, played by Alyssa Swan, is a prim woman who dreams of being a missionary. But, when the two encounter each other on the train, they begin to realize that maybe their dreams aren’t quite what they thought they’d be. 

Raeleigh has been discharged from the war after suffering from epeleptic episodes. He plans to go to New York or Chicago to find work. May has left her boyfriend, a soldier who turned out to not be the person she thought he was. She feels ashamed to head home with no fiance and no hope of becoming a missionary any time soon. Raeleigh reveals to May that the bodies of F. Scott Fitsgerald and Nathanael West are one the train, sparking their conversation.

From the start, Raeleigh and May have an instant connection with their banter and ready quips. The two discuss their dreams and plans for the future only to discover they’re from neighboring towns in Kentucky. The two decide to head back home together, but the next three years leads to more fated encounters and changes that neither one expects.

Raleigh (Hendrix) and May (Swan) on the final train to Nibroc. Set on Dec. 28, 1940.

Right away Hendrix and Swan give us an idea of the differences of their characters: May is the quiet and reserved type and Raeleigh is loud and friendly.

Hendrix and Swan deliver a great balance of banter and awkward pauses to highlight the immediate connection between the two strangers. As the conversation grows more serious, they both shift tones and use facial expressions at opportune moments to highlight poignant parts of the dialogue.

As the play goes on we see both of their characters struggle with guilt and self-doubt: Raeleigh feels guilty for not being able to fight in the war because of his medical condition and May doubts her ability to be a missionary as well as her ability to find a good husband. There are several moments filled with  hurtful words and anger as Hendrix and Swan work through the pain of their characters, mixing in humor at times to relieve the thick tension.

The setting for scene 3. May’s front porch in the Spring of 1943.

The scene setting of each act of the play is minimal, which enhances the dialogue of the characters. The first scene opens up onto a simple train cart seat with May reading a book, the second scene (two years later) is a simple park bench and the final scene (one year after the second scene) is a swing on May’s front porch. 

Both Hendrix and Swan make up for the lack of scenery by using the stage to their full advantage, allowing the audience to create a bigger picture in their minds. 

My only complaint is that in the final scene there is a large white fence at the front of the stage. It makes it hard to see Hendrix and Swan when they sit on the porch swing and takes away from the scene a bit. While it is used to imply the two characters are looking out into the distance, I think them simply standing at the front of the stage without the fence would have sufficed. 

Overall, I was impressed with the production and the storyline. The play itself highlights the struggles that men and women faced in the 1940s, and Hendrix and Swan do a great job of emulating that through their characters. Not to mention, who doesn’t love a happy ending?

Tickets for the final showings of the Bryan College Hilltop Player’s production of Last Train to Nibroc, showing on Jan. 31, Feb. 1 and Feb. 3, can be bought online or at the Box Office in Rudd Auditorium.

*Note: this article expresses the ideas and opinions of the author and are not a reflection of the views of the Triangle or Bryan College as a whole.

Samantha Burgess is a senior communication major with an emphasis in digital media and is editor in chief for the Triangle. Her interests in writing include profiles and feature articles. Burgess can often be found curled up with a good book, writing, listening to music or watching Netflix.