If you ask me - Tom Holehan

“Nibroc” Opens New Theatre Company in Torrington

There’s always room for another professional theatre company in Connecticut and now - tucked away on the second floor of a 1916 Renaissance Revival building in downtown Torrington - is Fifth Letter Productions. You may be reminded of those little off-Broadway theatres that populate every other block in lower Manhattan as you take the hike up two flights of stairs to the open space that serves as the new theatre’s headquarters. Three rows of padded folding chairs cover three sides of a small raised platform.  The intimate theatre seats a cozy crowd of just under 60 people.

Fifth Letter Productions has selected as their opening production Arlene Hutton’s charming two-character period romance, “Last Train to Nibroc”. The theatre’s founders, Elizabeth Erwin and Ed Walsh, star in this nostalgic tale about two strangers - a religious young woman fleeing an unhappy reunion and an army flyer recently discharged due to medical concerns – who meet on a train in 1940. The bittersweet relationship takes shape and develops over three years in three short scenes until its blissful conclusion in 1943. Hutton knows how to write about this kind of sweet and prickly romance and includes enough sass with the sugar to generate crowd-pleasing smiles throughout the brief, 90 minute running time (there is no intermission).

We learn from the program that Ms. Erwin and Mr. Walsh have been friends for a long time and this is evident in the warmly engaging chemistry they share on stage. It is a requirement for a delicate play like “Nibroc” that the actors form a bond and don’t overplay the sentiment. Directed without fuss by Sean Harris, Erwin drifts into southern characterture occasionally and probably employs the waterworks more than necessary for a play that deftly avoids it. She is, however, exactly in the moment with Mr. Walsh who is simply terrific and charismatic as the charming flyer. There is no denying the subtle heat generated by these two fine performers. Let’s hope this isn’t the last time we see them paired in a production.

Production values are as spare as one would expect from any upstart company. That “Nibroc” doesn’t require much in the way of a physical production is to the group’s advantage. With different fabric, a single park bench easily becomes both train seating and a porch chaise. Dan Rousseau’s soft lighting does well especially for the romantic moonlight scene that caps the drama. I do wish, however, that costumer Renee Purdy had provided Ms. Erwin with a change of clothes (and seamed stockings) over the three year period. The creators might also rethink a program note about epilepsy since it reveals one of the play’s more enjoyable surprises.

That said, we wish this plucky new company well. With the slight but memorable “Last Train to Nibroc” they are clearly on the right track.

“Last Train to Nibroc” continues at Fifth Letter Productions at 21 Water Street in Torrington, Connecticut through Sunday, July 24th. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.527.7433 or visit: www.fifthleatterproductions.com.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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