In Penn Station, connections missed & made

Photo by Matthew Reber Mike (Charlie Gorrilla) and Jenny (Keelie A. Sheridan) bond over a beer.
Photo by Matthew Reber
Mike (Charlie Gorrilla) and Jenny (Keelie A. Sheridan) bond over a beer.

Gasps trump guffaws on ‘Track Twelve’

BY SCOTT STIFFLER  |  Packed like sardines into rows that allowed little if any room between chairs, a sold-out audience waiting to see “Track Twelve” marked time by getting to know the person next to them. Countless niceties were exchanged after knocking knees or invading a neighbor’s personal space, as a new arrival squeezed by in order to reach that one spare seat at the end of the row.

When you’re in close quarters with a bunch of strangers, with nothing to do but play the waiting game, you either shut down or open up.

Fortunately, for this audience, the characters in “Track Twelve” are a chatty, if somewhat contentious bunch — and they all have a story to tell and a life-altering decision to make. That they do so in consistently believable and universally recognizable ways is what makes this tight, four-person play soar above and beyond the story arc set in motion by its familiar sitcom premise.

A slight variation on getting locked overnight in a bank vault (or a storage locker or a meat freezer), “Track Twelve” strands its characters in Penn Station during a blizzard. Secrets will be revealed, old wounds will be reopened and new alliances will be formed.

As the action (such as it is) begins, everybody’s just found out they’re going nowhere for the foreseeable future. A series of announcements puts the kibosh on regional trains (delayed due to frozen tracks) and all New Jersey lines (signal problems).

“Making a connection?”

“No, unfortunately.”

That’s the first exchange between corporate honcho Mike (Charlie Gorrilla) and free spirit Jenny (Keelie A. Sheridan). As opening lines go, it wasn’t very encouraging. Quickly followed by a casual pop culture reference, I fully expected this to be the general tone of things to come. Not to worry. Whether that metaphor alert was a clever bluff or an early misstep, playwright Emily Comisar soon established herself as a confident grand designer of complex dynamics and unexpected narrative choices.

It turns out Jenny is a wedding photographer, en route to her mother’s nuptials (for which she’s not been invited to serve as a bridesmaid). She’s soon joined by her older, more successful yet socially awkward brother Simon (Leo Goodman). On his way to a meeting that could make or break the business he’s poured his life into, Mike’s traveling companion is preoccupied colleague Lindsay (Sarah Sanders), with whom he has a fragile professional and personal relationship.

Everybody is hiding vital information from their significant other — and as such, the play’s core appeal flows from watching how Comisar develops the bonds between Jenny and Mike, Lindsay and Simon — so that by the time they actually board their train (and end up in adjoined seats), each freshly minted confidant knows something the old friend is about to find out.

Four deeply affecting and nuanced performances ground the unexpected turn of events, as the characters react to their new reality in alternately funny, tragic, admirable and maddening ways. A series of high-stakes conflicts earn their share of laughs — but in addition to that barometer of approval (which every playwright and actor craves), the audience I saw “Track Twelve” with greeted several plot twists with gasps — pure signs of validation that a three-dimensional portrayal has been realized by the actors who play the parts and the writer who pulls the strings. The knee-jerk reaction of an inhaled breath, upon recognizing something on the stage we’ve seen in ourselves, is the final destination that many plays set out to reach, but few ever arrive at. “Track Twelve” makes that trip, time and time again.


At Teatro Circulo (64 E. Fourth St., btw. Bowery & Second Ave.). Thurs., 8/15 at 8:45pm, Sun., 8/18 at 8:45pm, Wed., 8/21 at 5pm & Fri., 8/23 at 2pm. Tickets: $15 in advance, $18 at the door. Call 866-468-7619 or visit fringenyc.org.