While the idea of a character being on the search for themselves is a pretty classic one, few characters have taken the concept as literally as does Tracy Jones, the protagonist of a play of the same name currently on view at Island City Stage until this June 18th. Described as “a comedy about friendship, connection and chicken wings,” the show comes to ICS as part of a rolling world premiere, after previous stops in Rochester, NY and Williamston, MI. It takes place at a party thrown by said protagonist, to which she has had the bright idea of inviting every other woman named Tracy Jones in an attempt to alleviate her crushing sense of loneliness.
After all, if there are 6,771 Tracies in the US, (though that figure regrettably includes the male Tracies, who will be decidedly unwelcome) then one of them is bound to have that glorious secret insight that will help her learn to be, well, herself.
Especially given that 67 Tracies clicked “interested” on Facebook, she’s cautiously optimistic that the endeavor will have a good turnout, and has devised what seems to be a foolproof plan for a stellar evening; nametags, drinks, food, game, prize, PowerPoint, mingling, cake. If only, of course, the ladies of the hour would actually go ahead and arrive.
Matthew Buffalo (photo by Matthew Tippins)
And while there is plenty of humor in the comedy of errors that ensues as the turnout for this little shindig is not exactly what Tracy expected, the play also encompasses some surprisingly dark themes, to the extent that watching the increasingly disastrous evening take place eventually began to evoke at least as much pity as amusement.
What seems at first glance as a fanciful idea for a fun party is actually the desperate act of a woman who simply couldn’t bear the idea of, as she puts it, “waking up another morning as just me.” It’s not until 15 pages into the show’s script even one other Tracy Jones shows up to join the proceedings, and about another 45 until just one more makes his debut—a male Tracy Jones who missed the “girls only” part of the memo.
Luckily, until then, Tracy (and the audience) have the fortune of at least being in the company of the teenage “personal party server-slash-host with the most,” part of the party package Tracy purchased from Jones’ Wings and Things for the occasion. Exceptionally eager to please, new to the job, and too young to be enlisted to replace Austin the bartender when he gets sidelined by food poisoning, the Host remains unnamed for most of the play (so I won’t spoil a joke by revealing her identity here!) but, especially as played with boundless, bright-eyed enthusiasm by Sara Grant, is one of its more likable and amusing characters.
Irene Adjan, Sara Grant and Niki Fridh (photo by Matthew Tippins)
Some of the play’s best jokes involve her strict adherence to oddly specific and nonsensical restaurant protocol and terminology mandated by her employer, from referring to their custom snack mix as “scintillating scrumptious snack-ens” and their customers as “kith and kin” to setting up the snack table just so.
Yet when it comes to the play’s central premise and the plight of its central character, it’s almost as if Tracy Jones’ blend of a whimsical premise and themes as serious as suicidality and profound loss never quite strikes the right balance.
Thus, though the playwright described the piece as a “sad farce”, its antics ultimately struck me as falling more towards the sadder side. Yes, there are plenty of farcical hi-jinks and antics, and some of them very funny ones; jokes are called back at just the right moment, identities are mistaken, odd coincidences abound. But since the comedy isn’t quite so fast-paced as to command full audience attention, instead what comes through most vividly is the consuming desperation motivating its main character, which makes it a not entirely pleasant watch.
Sara Grant, Irene Adjan, Niki Fridh (photo by Matthew Tippins)