Stephen Kaplan and his new play “Tracy Jones” are on a roll – actually, a “rolling premiere.”
The production opening on May 18 at Island City Stage in Wilton Manors is the third of three world premiere productions beginning last year in Rochester, N.Y. and Williamston, Mich.
Rolling World Premieres are a program of the National New Play Network, explained Kaplan in a phone interview from his home in New Jersey.
“There was this problem where new plays would get their first production and then languish,” the 45-year-old said. “The rolling world premieres were conceived to support new work, new playwrights and theaters that are all doing new work.”
Three member theaters commit to productions within one year, but there’s a catch – each of the productions is completely independent of the others.
“Because they don’t share casts or directors, the play and the playwright can evolve,” added Kaplan. “It’s been great for me because I’ve been able to make changes throughout. This is the culmination of everything.”
The play was workshopped extensively before the premiere, but he took advantage of the opportunities to make the jokes stronger and choreograph the physical comedy.
“It’s very physical and farcical in nature. There’s a lot of food that flies on stage, for example – it’s a very messy play – so figuring out the logistics was important. The script is very specific,” he said.
In Kaplan’s story, Tracy Jones is a lonely woman who leads a dull, uneventful life and she's sure it's partly because her name is drab. But, what if she celebrates her name by hosting a party and inviting every woman she can find named Tracy Jones – not just from her hometown, but all over the world? And, what if she hosts it at Jones Street Bar and Grill, the Place for Wings (and Things)?
The gathering quickly gets messy, even as new bonds are created between four characters all seeking just a little bit of love and personal connection.
“I always remember Googling my name and wondering about all the Stephen Kaplans in the world,” he said.
The Los Angeles native grew up in the theater, first as a child performer who turned to playwriting as a teenager. An early work got produced and won awards, setting up a 30-year career “exploring the stories I want to be telling.”
He always knew this play would be called “Tracy Jones,” and whipped out the script over a few months in 2019, while participating in a writing group. The first production was set for May 2020, but the pandemic emerged, postponing the premiere, but also setting up the opportunity he’s now enjoying.
“I’m always optimistic, but the pandemic taught us how crucial being together is. I tried doing some of the ‘Zoom theater’ that was going on, but it was a means to an end. It reminded me how much I needed a space for people to come together to experience the same thing at the same time and place,” Kaplan pointed out.
The theater world has taken notice and two more productions of “Tracy Jones” have already been licensed.
He concluded, “I feel like people have responded to it in the way that I hoped … my diverse group of characters are all a little damaged, a little lost, all trying to do the right things. Audiences have been finding themselves in these characters, which is my hope with any play.”
Island City Stage, 2304 N. Dixie Hwy. in Wilton Manors, presents the rolling world premiere of Stephen Kaplan’s “Tracy Jones,” May 18 – June 18. Tickets start at $40 at IslandCityStage.org.