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Fort Fringe – The Bedroom

Remaining Performances:

Wednesday, July 17, 7:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 21, 6:15 p.m.
Wednesday, July 25, 9:15 p.m.
Friday, July 27, 9:45 p.m.
Sunday, July 28, 12 p.m.
They say: “After a chance encounter on a train, May and Raleigh find their lives changed forever in this touching and funny portrait of two people looking for happiness during the early days of WWII.”

Maddie’s Take: Look out! A naturalistic, two-character play has snuck up on us here at Capital Fringe. Fringe festivals are supposed to be a time of new plays! Experimental, movement-based theater! Solo performance pieces about vegan-friendly condoms! Last Train to Nibroc, Arlene Hutton‘s 1999 romantic dramedy, surely sticks out, but in a sweetly charming way.

Set in 1940, Hutton’s play doesn’t feel like it’s about that period, but rather truly of it. Its specificity—-literary arguments about Nathanael West and Lloyd C. Douglas, Detroit as a job mecca—-is also why it channels a certain kind of timelessness. Besides, awkward meet-cute conversations never go out of style.

Raleigh (Justin McLachlan) and May (Lena Winter) are both on a train coming back from an Army base in California—-Raleigh is on an unspecified medical discharge and May has just had a rather unpleasant visit with her fiance. The dialogue between these two strangers, one curious and one very apprehensive, is effortlessly natural. They stammer, interrupt one another, say the wrong thing out of ignorance and then experience the subsequent lull in conversation. And when the two finally appear to hit it off and you congratulate yourself for predicting the next act, Hutton rips the rug out from under you. These characters will have to work to earn their happy ending.

McLachlan and Winter’s chemistry makes you willing to wait. As the complicated Raleigh—-a restless dreamer given to bouts of self-crippling doubt—-McLachlan draws you in with his aw-shucks country boy charm while disarming you with the slightly unhinged intensity behind his constantly widening eyes. He also has a way of pitching Raleigh’s many sarcastic lines with a subtle, dry delivery.

A typical exchange between the two: May, glued to her spot after angrily stating her intention to storm off, prompts Raleigh to observe, “You are not leaving very fast.” It’s no wonder that May always asks “Are you making fun of me?”

Winter has the less meaty character—-May is a reserved Christian who must learn to soften her judgmental nature—-and at times I hoped she would find different levels to play, but she acquits herself well in the last act, when May finally begins to shed her prickly skin.

And Fringe’s typically spare production values end up suiting the play: The set, two chairs and a bench, is all that’s needed to create the illusion that we’re on a train or on someone’s porch, aided by simple sound cues.

It’s not the world’s most profound story, of course, nor even the most romantic one. But sometimes a character study just needs to be heartwarming and free of bullshit.

See it if: You’re one of those people who wonder why Capital Fringe never has any “normal” shows.

Skip it if: The words “Kentucky,” “homespun,” and “romance” make you head for the concrete hills.