Deertrees’ new repertory company is getting the theater’s season rolling with Arlene Hutton’s “Last Train to Nibroc,” a touching story that follows two strangers and their intertwined journey through life after a chance meeting on a train in 1940.

Nestled in the foothills of western Maine, the rustic 1930s playhouse offers a picturesque location for the intimate two-actor production, directed by artistic and executive director Andrew Harris. The exposed wooden beams and on-site refreshment shop, the Salt Lick Café, recall a bygone era that sets the mood for the play’s rural Kentucky locale.

The production is stripped down, with two benches serving as the primary props for the two-act, three-scene performance. The minimalistic set shifts the audience’s focus to the actors and the play’s endearing storyline.

Emily Grotz and Luis Del Valle star as May and Raleigh. When the pair meet, May is a young woman returning home to Kentucky from California, her hopes of marriage dashed after being jilted by her soldier fiancé. Raleigh dreams of going to New York City to be a writer, desperate to rebuild his life after being prematurely discharged from the service for “fits” that make it impossible for the young pilot to fly in the war.

“Last Train to Nibroc” uses the train as a metaphor that carries into the characters’ lives. Like the two dead writers – Nathanael West and F. Scott Fitzgerald – who are being transported by the train to their final resting places, Raleigh fears that he is hurtling toward his final destination in life. Upon meeting May, his view shifts and he begins to see opportunity in stops along the way. But May, a wannabe missionary, has a tendency to be judgmental, as demonstrated by her harsh recollection of her fellow passengers on the train.

Grotz and Del Valle, both theater majors at the University of Southern Maine, embrace their characters and the play’s symbolism with a heartwarming maturity. Real-life chemistry seems to emanate from the two as their characters verbally spar onstage. Grotz brings just the right amount of sanctimoniousness to her otherwise good-hearted character, and Del Valle matches her with a winsome boyishness as his character playfully chides and teases May.

The pair are pure fun to watch when May, now a teacher of 51 students, tries to correct Raleigh’s grammar, which has become atrocious since moving back to his parents’ farm in the South. It’s a witty battle of “seen” versus “saw,” with Raleigh delivering a series of digs that delightfully challenge May’s suppositions.

Over the half-year time span of the play, the two characters grow, solidifying the bond struck when they first met on the train. The actors bring out this blossoming maturity, delivering a tenderness that is sincere.

Deertrees Theatre’s “Last Train to Nibroc” is an engaging love story that embraces the ups and downs of life with humor and tenderness. It also serves as a gentle reminder to avoid judging by appearance or assumption. As May comes to discover about Nibroc, a festival in her hometown, preconceived notions often hinge incorrectly on our view of the world – or in this case, word – order.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: ahboyle