During last year's Actors Co-op run of Arlene Hutton's Last Train to Nibroc, director Nan McNamara kept hearing audiences ask the same question: "What happens next?" Set during World War II, the play about strangers who meet on a train ends just as their complicated relationship takes the next step.
Now those who want to know the rest of the story—as well anyone who hasn't seen the first chapter—have a rare chance to dine on a three-course theatrical meal. Actors Co-op is the first company to present the Nibroc Trilogy, which includes the world premiere of the final installment, Gulf View Drive, as well as the middle play, See Rock City.
McNamara again directs the first segment and also the second. Marianne Savell directs Gulf View Drive. Both women are former Actors Co-op producing directors. "I had wanted to direct Last Train to Nibroc since I saw a production at the Tamarind Theatre in 2000," McNamara says. "Last year we did it as a Co-op second-stage production. It ran for six performances. It was so successful that we brought it back as a sort of bonus production for subscribers."
Last Train to Nibroc, first produced in 1999, is about Raleigh and May, who meet on a train headed east from Los Angeles to New York. Both are from the same area in Kentucky. May hopes to be a missionary. Raleigh, who suffers from epilepsy, has been discharged from the Army and has become a writer. He plans to move to New York.
See Rock City, which premiered last year, is set in Kentucky toward the end of World War II. The mothers of Raleigh and May are introduced. Gulf View Drive is set in Florida 10 years later. The same four characters are included, as well as Raleigh's sister.
"Given that See Rock takes place one year after Nibroc, it was ideal for me to direct the first two," McNamara says. "Timewise, it wasn't possible to direct all three of them. Marianne had directed another Arlene Hutton play, As It Is in Heaven, so it seemed perfect for her to take on the third one." Savell and Hutton (a pseudonym adopted by Beth Lincks) became friends after the production of As It Is in Heaven, which Savell believes may have helped pave the way for securing first rights to do the trilogy.
Though each play is a separate production registered with Actors' Equity Association, McNamara and Savell decided to keep the same cast to maintain a sense of continuity for audiences who attend the entire trilogy. Following the usual Actors Co-op procedure, a company-wide audition was held, even though there were obvious front-runners for the lead roles. Gary Clemmer and Staci Michelle Armao appeared as Raleigh and May in last year's production.
"We needed actors who could play early 20s but also mid-30s, and also had the sensibilities of these folks," McNamara explains. "We were fortunate that Staci and Gary not only fit the bill for the first play but for the other two as well. We held an open call among the Actors Co-op membership, but, frankly, a lot of the company wanted to see Gary and Staci do it again, so not as many people auditioned as would have in a different situation." The cast for See Rock City includes Bonnie Bailey-Reed and Linda Kerns. Gulf View Drive also features Deborah Lynn Meier.
McNamara began rehearsals before Savell. She first worked on See Rock City and is now rehearsing both plays during a four-hour period each day. The cast spends another four hours with Savell on Gulf View Drive. The directors want to maintain a consistent tone throughout the trilogy, so they speak daily, exchange emails, and sometimes sit in on the other's rehearsals. "We want to continue telling the story in a similar way with similar themes, even in terms of the music we've chosen," McNamara says. "Before rehearsals began we talked about how we both see each character so we wouldn't be giving actors conflicting notes."
Both directors hope Last Train to Nibroc will excite audiences enough to return for the other plays, though Savell says the trilogy can be just as enjoyable—albeit a different experience—if seen out of order. "If we do a good job of telling these stories, people will want to know what happens next," McNamara says.