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The Nibroc Trilogy

I don't have a job! How am I going to take care of you?— May (to Raleigh, her epileptic husband, after her job as a school principal is given to a returning soldier)
Is that what you think this marriage is about?—Raleigh

Arlene Hutton's The Nibroc Trilogy paints the 1940s and 1950s from the shrewd and empathetic viewpoint of a Southern woman. More reminiscent of Horton Foote than Tennessee Williams, Hutton's emphasis is on the stubborn conflicts and feisty courage in the everyday lives of middle class Southerners. The first two plays, Last Train To Nibroc and See Rock City, have been done in New York and regionally (see links below). Tthe third, Gulf View Drive, is having its world premiere at the Actors' Co-Op in Los Angeles. Like its predecessors, it displays Hutton's unpretentious flair for characters in all their humor and sorrow, woven into the tapestry of their times.

In the first play, Last Train to Nibroc, May, a teacher who broke up with her solider fiancée in California, and Raleigh, an aspiring writer given a medical discharge for epilepsy, meet on a train and discover they are from the same part of Kentucky. In See Rock City, they're married, living with May's parents and struggling. During World War II when all the men are fighting, May has become a school principal. Because of his epilepsy, about which little was known then, Raleigh can't fight, drive or get a job. Their professional situation adds tremendous stress to t that of a country at war. The cast has been enlarged to include the two mothers-in-law. Mrs. Gill, May's mother, is a sweet warm woman; and Mrs. Brummett, Raleigh's mother, is a rock-ribbed Baptist struggling almost single-handedly to work their share cropper's farm during her husband's illness.

Gulf View Drive, finds the young couple in Florida in 1953. Raleigh's dreams of being a writer have come blazingly true and he takes pride in telling his mother he paid cash for the house, the TV and all the appliances. May's widowed mother, Mrs.Gill, has been visiting them and now Mrs. Brummett, a new widow who lost her farm because the owner didn't want a woman running it, has come for an indefinite visit. Raleigh's near illiterate sister Treva shows up next, having left her children with her in-laws while her husband Harold, who has changed for the worse since the war, works in Detroit. The play emphasizes the war's dislocations on the lives of women like these. With narrow-minded irritable in-laws, it's no wonder May, now a teacher, is testy, though she's always obliging. Raleigh has the equally irritating sweetness and patience of a saint. It's a relief when he finally loses it the night Treva, trying to help, spills coffee all over his freshly typed manuscript. In pre-Xerox/Kinko days, that meant retyping the whole thing.

Change forces growth, which could be a cliché in other hands, but Hutton's people are so real, bewildered and strong, and her dialogue so clipped and natural, that the familiar dilemmas are powerful. Treva wants to go to college but finds she's pregnant. May loses her job again, this time for allowing an African-American child to sit in her classroom.

Initially May seems irritatingly snappish and Raleigh annoying gentle and forgiving, but the two grow. May has enough strength of character for them both and Raleigh's compassion and insight leaven it. Gary Clemmer has a subtle sense of humor that humanizes Raleigh and Staci Michelle Armao's passion gradually makes May likeable. Deborah Lynn Meier is wonderful as the selfish Treva, who never had a chance until now and shows her mettle in making the most of it. Linda Kerns expresses the pain and loss of Mrs. Gill with stunning numbness in See Rock City. Both she and Mrs. Brummett, in a rock solid portrayal by Bonnie Bailey-Reed, have little to do in Gulf View Drive, except clean house but their presence and dilemmas are large, both physically and psychically.

Commercials and popular songs bridge the acts, giving the cast time to change into Paula Higgins' spot-on period costumes. Hutton sets her plays on front porches or lanais which enhance the claustrophobic quality of small town family life. Gary Lee Reed catches that in his scenic design and Bill Kickbush's lighting design, especially the Florida moonlight, complements it. The three plays are done in repertory, an excellent way to live through this time of great change in our society. All the plays end on optimistic notes. After the first two, the succeeding plays pragmatically display the struggles when reality sets in but the characters keep bobbing up again and one gets the feeling they have the brains and resilience to keep on overcoming. If Hutton would chronicle them further, we would come.

Last Train to Nibroc Off-Broadway.
See Rock City Berkshires production

Playwright: Arlene Hutton
Directors: Last Train to Nibroc and See Rock City: Nan McNamara. Gulf View Drive: Marianne Savell
Cast: Gary Clemmer (Raleigh), Staci Michelle Armao (May), Bonnie Bailey-Reed (Mrs. Brummett), Linda Kerns (Mrs. Gill), Deborah Lynn Meier (Treva).
Set Design: Gary Lee Reed
Lighting Design: Bill Kickbush
Costume Design: Paula Higgins
Sound Design: Nick Omana, Seth Hum (Gulf View Drive, See Rock City), Lindsay Schnebly (Last Train to Nibroc)
Original Music: Claire Holley (See Rock City), Robbie Schaefer (Gulf View Drive) Running Time: Last Train to Nibroc, See Rock City (90 minutes, no intermission); Gulf View Drive (2 hours, 10 minutes, one intermission)
Running Dates: In repertory, September 8-November 26, 2006
Where: The Crossley Theatres, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Reservations: (323) 462-8460.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on September 29-30.
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