An Unconventional Solution To Social Isolation In Tracy Jones

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 debuta 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)

Despite leading actor Niki Fridh’s best efforts to imbue the Tracy of the title, who I’ll from here on refer to as Tracy #1, with a lovable enthusiasm, I couldn’t help but feel as if her efforts and actions occasionally veered a tad too far into “too pathetic to sympathize with,” especially given their nonsensical scale. This is especially true when her actions take a turn for the intolerant as she is slow to realize that by, for instance, by being reluctant to add a male Tracy to the party, she is denying others the same comfort that she so desperately craves. 

A similar thing could be said about Tracy #2, who arrives inexplicably overdressed for the occasion and spends most of the play lying about several key aspects of her identity, though Irene Adjan does a good job of conveying that despite a surface elegance her character is not nearly as self-assured as she’d like to seem. 

Committing no such sins is Tracy #3, or Male Tracy, who is so tardy because he’s spent the past few hours at the bar trying to work up the courage to join the others. Though he’s just as woebegone as his Tracies-in-company, he is by far the most sympathetic of the three because, as we eventually learn, he has retreated from the world in response to a very real tragedy rather than personal flaws or mere inertia, which genuinely humbles the others. Matthew Buffalo well-navigates this intense moment of revelation as well as conveying his character’s hesitant yet hopeful attitude throughout.

In the end, though I also found the play to be somewhat over-long without a few more Tracies in the mix, there are enough moments genuinely uproarious and genuinely affecting to be found in Tracy Jones to make it a satisfying evening. After all, by the end of the play, some of its characters seem to have found what they came in looking for: at least the edges of a connection.

Their plight is certainly one that will resonate with many in this increasingly isolated era, and one might even justly wonder if the negativity of my reaction is due in at least some part to the fact that aspects of the various Tracies’ struggles hit a little too close to home. As I’ve explored in some of my writings elsewhere, ours is an increasingly isolated ageyes, especially post-pandemic. 

If it had gone deeper into the societal why of why so many Americans find themselves lacking for companionship, Tracy Jones may have emerged an even more interesting play; but as it is the title characters’ worries about whether she might “forget how” to socialize if left too long to her own devices certainly struck a chord. In any case, the boundless commitment of the hard-working cast assures a plenty entertaining evening, which is all the more reason this Tracy-themed bash is one party worth finding yourself a guest at before this June 18th! 

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