Art House Productions inaugurated their new theater space in Jersey City with Tracy Jones, a play by Stephen Kaplan. Art House, founded shortly after 9/11, has just moved into a permanent performing and visual arts center containing an intimate black box theater space and a spacious art gallery. Their continuing mission is to inspire, entertain, and challenge audiences; provide arts education; and celebrate the power of the arts to illuminate humanity. They do this by providing a home for innovative artists developing new work; presenting emerging and under-recognized artists; and giving established artists a safe space to take creative risks.
Tracy Jones explores, under a comic veneer, themes of failed expectations and the search for connection. The title character (Helen Coxe) has had the bright idea of inviting every woman in the world named “Tracy Jones”, spelled exactly that way, to a mixer in the party room of a bar noted for its “wings ‘n’ things”. We meet Tracy an hour and a half into the party, and she is the only Tracy there. Her mind frantically races through her list of party activities; she paces the space, arranging the food platters, pouring herself Diet Cokes. She engages with Jillie (Ciara Chanel), the teenaged first-time “Personal Party Host with the Most” assigned to assist at the last minute.
Tracy does have two guests. The first to appear is a male Tracy Jones (Fernando Contreras), a gay man who has misread the “women-only” part of the invitation; the second is a female Tracy Jones (Therese McGinn) who is a practitioner of “book therapy”. All three Tracys try to connect while guarding personal secrets; meanwhile Jillie covers her fears of falling short in seeing to the Tracys’ needs by walling herself within the bar’s unique policies and protocols.
The show is directed in a slightly manic style by Alex Tobey, with generous gobs of slapstick involving food, and a running gag with Contreras’ entrances and exits at the beginning. All four actors bring life to their characters’ quirks, but the play itself feels like it could have used less speed and more substance. In particular, Contreras and McGinn’s revelatory monologues, while well done and somewhat touchingly poignant, seemed to be tacked on to the play rather than growing from it.
Tracy Jones is a light entertainment and has some truly comic bits of business. If you’re looking for a Neil Simon or a Ken Ludwig style of comedy, you won’t find it here. But you will find a humorous look at a serious subject, and you will probably find yourself having a good time. I wish Art House Productions could have started out with a slightly more solid comedy than Tracy Jones. And I wish Art House Productions luck in their future endeavors.
Tracy Jones is presented by Art House Productions at their performance space in Jersey City through November 5th. For more information, or to purchase tickets, go to arthouseproductions.org or call 201-579-0532.