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A New Gem, a Fine Classic

In the former home of a ballet school in Torrington, CT, barres still in place, a new theater company is giving us a lean and piercing production of Arlene Hutton’s “Last Train to Nibroc.” “It’s crazy,” director Sean Harris told the full house last Thursday. “It is an act of bravery to start a theater company, especially in hard times.” But new, often actor-driven, production companies are popping up in empty urban real estate all over the area. And this one, Fifth Letter Productions, has opened with a focused and stirring play for two characters. It’s the close of 1940 and Raleigh (Ed Walsh), a discharged soldier, still in uniform, seats himself next to May (Elizabeth Erwin) on a crowded train heading east from Los Angeles. He spreads out, knees apart, comfortable, physical. He wants to be a writer, he tells her. He is taking the train to New York because the Army will not have him, even in wartime, and, anyway, New York is where writers go. Also, Nathanael West and F. Scott Fitzgerald are aboard this train. “We’re riding with two of the greatest authors of the century,” Raleigh tells May. There’s magic in that for him. Even if the two greatest writers of the century are in their coffins in the baggage car. But May, a would-be missionary — small, feisty, narrow minded, and, well, unnerved by his easy maleness — is not impressed. Time would change them both, though, and in following scenes it’s clear that May and Raleigh are not who they were when they met. By the end of the play, Raleigh has his place in the world and May reveals an immense goodness that sweeps away all hurts and sorrows. That’s Hutton’s writing. But it is Erwin and Walsh, the actors, who portray the decency and wit and hope in these characters that makes this play so special. It’s a gem. “Last Train to Nibroc” runs at 21 Water St., in Torrington, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., through July 24. This production is supported by Torrington Downtown Partners, 155 people bent on sparking economic and artistic development in this one-time manufacturing town. A case of enlightened self interest, one could say. In a far less naturalistic vein, Henrik Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck,” a 19th-century drama about crime, misplaced punishment and the danger of a zealot’s idealism, is playing at Bard’s Fisher Center. This is a glossy, smart production with clever staging, witty direction, fine acting and a new translation by David Eldridge, all elements bent on peeling these characters like a pear, leaving them pale and exposed. Most vulnerable is Hjalmar Ekdal (Sean Cullen), who is demolished by the efforts of old friend, Gregers Werle (Dashiell Eaves), to strip away all deceit, all pretense, all dreams — all the “life lies” that get most of us through each day. And among the most vivid characters is Relling (Liam Craig), a fellow who knows the truth when he sees it. Director Caitríona McLaughlin’s stage in the Sosnoff Theater is sheared into separate spaces by veils, by glass, by stairs. And, astonishingly, the whole set is turned inside out by lighting to reveal the loft that is home for the rabbits and birds and the duck upon which the story finally, and tragically, turns. “The Wild Duck” plays at Bard’s Fisher Center through July 24. For tickets and information, call 845-758-7900 or go to www.fishercenter.bard.edu.

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