The romantic comedy “Last Train to Nibroc” will arrive onstage in Thompson Feb. 15 for the first of three straight nights in Northern Manitoba as part of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s annual regional tour, which will visit 24 communities in Manitoba and Northern Ontario from Jan. 30 to March 4.
The Thompson show will be followed by a performance in Snow Lake the following night and in Flin Flon on Feb. 17. The tour returns to Northern Manitoba for its final performance March 4 in Churchill.
The play, penned by Arlene Hutton, is set in 1940 and follows a dashing pilot named Raleigh who falls for May, a prim young missionary-to-be on a train to New York and follows her home to Kentucky.
“It’s three scenes that take place about a year in between and it tells the story of two young people from Kentucky who meet just at the outset of the Second World War on a train and they’re both at a time in their life where they’re very lost and confused about the future as I think the larger world was at the time,” says Winnipeg actor and University of Winnipeg graduate actor Kristian Jordan, who plays the role of Raleigh in his first part in a Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre production. “They begin to get to know each other at a time when they are confused about their own identities and that relationship continues as they continue to run into each other in various circumstances over the years. It is really just two people getting to know each other. It’s a real character story.”
Jordan’s co-actor in the role of May is Gwendolyn Collins.
“Most recently she was Alice in their production of ‘Alice Through the Looking Glass’ so it’s been great to work with her too,” he says.
The play is directed by Kelly Rae Jenken, with sets designed by Jamie Plummer and costumes by Joseph Abetria.
“We travel with a very talented crew with a very nice set,” Jordan says. “It is minimalist but it’s very well designed and it changes for each and every scene. I think every scene is very different and has a distinct slant to it.”
Part of the challenge of performing in so many different communities is the varying sizes of the stages in the venues in which the play is performed.
“We perform in such a variety of places we’ve had to prepare different blocking, which is to say we’ve rehearsed shows so that we’re able to do it on smaller stages and bigger stages because of the varying venues that we’re going to perform in across the province,” Jordan says. “There’s a lot of nice little spots and it all adds a different element to the show.”
That uniqueness of every performance is what makes live theatre exciting, Jordan says, an experience that performers and audiences are a part of, as compared to TV, which is more a process of observing.
“It’s all there and it’s all live and it’s very temporary and so everything you take away is very unique to you the audience member,” Jordan says. “You can’t go back and revisit those moments. Anything can happen in live theatre and we’re just going to roll with it. There’s going to be little differences with every show and the main thing I find with live theatre is how much the audience is a member of the show, how much they influence how it changes, how the tone of it might be.”
And while watching just two people perform on stage might seem a little dry to people unfamiliar with live theatre, Jordan says the writing and the topic make it an engaging piece.
“Arlene Hutton, the playwright, has written very, very snappy dialogue and it’s very real and it unfolds in, I think, an interesting way that is engaging to people and I think people will maybe see parallels in their own life because, once you take away all the circumstances, it’s just two people getting to know each other but at a very confusing time for the world and for themselves. It’s very alive and it’s very real so I think that adds an element of excitement and an unknown quality for the audience. It’s very funny, too, and charming.”
Performing about six shows a week for a month with travel in between can be gruelling, Jordan says, but it’s not as tight a schedule as when he toured with the Prairie Theatre Exchange, doing two shows per day.
“For an actor this tour has a little bit more luxury involved,” he says.
Jordan spoke with the Thompson Citizen the day after the first performance of the tour in Brandon on Jan. 30 and said it’s always refreshing to finally get in front of audiences.
“When you rehearse for as long as we have, we’ve been rehearsing for about three weeks now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the script previous to that, you get very involved,” said Jordan. “By the time you finally do it for a crowd they really become a part of the show. You don’t know what’s going to surprise people or shock people or make people laugh so it adds a real unknown element to the show that’s really exciting to be a part of. They were a very responsive crowd so it was great to share it with people after all this time.”
Tickets for “Last Train to Nibroc” are available from the city’s recreation department.