PICTURED: Emilyrose Morris and Jeff Lawless star as May and Raleigh in Last Train to Nibroc. Photo by Elena Mills/Conejo Players Theatre
by Emily Dodi
These days, “the show must go on” has taken on a much deeper meaning. It no longer simply means overcoming a technical glitch or calming a bout of stage fright before the curtain goes up. During COVID times, it means having to find new ways to bring art to the people. Conejo Players Theatre (CPT) has been especially creative in doing so, first with producing outdoor musical revues and now by livestreaming a staged performance of Last Train to Nibroc (Jan. 22-24.)
Arlene Hutton’s poignant and timely play revolves around a young man and woman who meet on a train. The year is 1940, the world is in tumult and two seemingly lost souls connect, revealing truths about themselves they never expected. As director Elena Mills explains, it is a deeply moving and, at times, humorous look at human relationships, kindness, understanding and misunderstanding.
In many ways, Last Train to Nibroc is a play for our times. Not just because it is an intimate look at a relationship forged during a pivotal time in history, but because its structure is conducive to the moment. The two-person drama does not fit CPT’s pre-pandemic tradition of mounting large-scale musical productions. COVID-19 has inspired the theater to reimagine what is possible — in short, how it can turn obstacles into opportunities. Now is the perfect moment for Last Train to Nibroc>, a play that Mills says she has been wanting to direct for a long time. “I read the play many years ago and I just fell in love with it.”
Mills and the actors Emilyrose Morris and Jeff Lawless, as well as a diligent crew, have been working according to COVID-19 protocols to bring the production to the stage. Zoom rehearsals were followed by onstage rehearsals (and multiple COVID tests) in anticipation of the upcoming live performances. In every aspect — sets, props, costumes and staging — Last Train to Nibroc is a “regular” production, except that the audience will be at home instead of in the theater.
“When COVID hit, I felt deprived of performing as I know a lot of people were,” Lawless says. “I was looking around for things to do and there were so many Zoom shows where it’s completely zero-contact . . . Then I saw that Conejo was doing some sort of hybrid-type thing — it’s real-time with another actor and there’s just no audience and I’m like, that’s awesome and a safe way to bring theater back in a unique way … and I think that it’s just a really cool happy medium that can only have been discovered during this time.”
Morris agrees, likening the experience to doing a multi-cam sitcom, “where there’s kind of an audience, but it’s kind of like doing a film.”
“We think it’s so important that people can see this piece of art, especially now in these difficult times,” Mills adds. “We are trying not just to survive (I’m talking about Conejo Players) but we’re trying to bring people something nice, something good, something that they’re missing right now — which is live theater. I understand that it is live stream, but they can see that it’s our stage with live actors.”
When the show goes on, you won’t want to miss it.
Last Train to Nibroc, streaming live Jan. 22-24. For schedule, tickets and more information, visit www.conejoplayers.org.
Watch an author talk back with playwright Arlene Hutton at www.facebook.com/conejoplayers/.