The Girl on the Train at Lyric Arts in Anoka is a Thriller Worth the Commute

Photo by Molly Weibel

Lyric Arts in anoka has long been one of my favorite of the smaller local theaters. Nestled in amongst small shops and churches on the picturesque main street of Anoka, it’s a small town theatre that frequently delivers big city level productions. The Girl on the Train is one of those productions. Lyric Arts brings this regional premiere to vivid life with a great cast and a truly impressive production design. The play is based on the bestselling novel by Paula Hawkins and the DreamWorks film, which I have never read nor seen. It’s rare to see a contemporary thriller on stage, we usually get older plays such as Wait Until Dark or a period Agatha Christie. I love those but they always suffer slightly from the fact that I usually know the ending. That’s what I loved about going into this blind. The more productions I see the rarer it is that I can just be present in the moment not knowing where the story is going. It’s a refreshing treat that given the popularity of the novel and film few may be able to share. Luckily, the staging is so inventive and the performances so good that I feel sure those familiar with the plot and resolution with still have a thoroughly entertaining night at the Theater.

The Girl on the Train follows Rachel Watson, a London woman who longs for a different life. Her only escape is in the glimpse of the perfectly happy suburban couple she views through the train window on her daily London commute. Their life–as
she sees it–is perfect. Not unlike the life she so recently lost… When Rachel learns that the woman she’s been
secretly watching has suddenly disappeared, she finds herself as first a witness and then a suspect. Soon she is
deeply entangled in not only the investigation, but a mystery that will force her to face revelations she never could
have anticipated.”

Lyric Arts Press release

The play was adapted by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel who co wrote a stage adaptation of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in 2021 and have a new Stage version of Sherlock Holmes in development. Not having been exposed to either of the earlier versions of the story it’s difficult to judge their talent for adaptation, but I certainly like their taste in source materials. The script does a nice job of weaving clues to the psychology of the denouement throughout the story. Dealing with some real world issues such as alcohol abuse, guilt, and domestic abuse that function twofold as pieces of the puzzle but also obstacles to its solution.

Laura Baker stars as Rachel, the girl on the train, she has a tough role in that we have to be rooting for her even as we observe her troubling behavior and watch her earn her own way onto the list of suspects with her lies. On the surface she is a character who drinks until she can’t remember what she did or saw, stalks and harrasses her ex-husband and his new family, insinuates herself into the life of the missing girl’s husband, and tries to get the missing girl’s therapist to divulge confidential information, and it isn’t really out of some high minded effort to solve the mystery, but to fill holes in her own life. That despite all of this behavior we are still rooting for Rachel is a testament to the way Baker shows us the vulnerability underneath all of these actions. She’s supported by a solid cast. Standouts for me were Jack Bonko as Scott Hipwell, the missing girl’s husband who like all of the performers outside of the Detective in charge of the case have to play the part so that we can read their behavior as innocent or guilty. Bonko walked that line perfectly, always keeping you guessing if he was menacing or messed up. In one of the smaller roles Grace Hillmyer as Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex Tom, does a lot with little stage time. Doc Woods makes for a great detective, he baits Rachel expertly, and also delivers with droll logic the ways in which she keeps making herself more and more a person of interest to the police. Rounding out the cast are Jonathan Feld as the ex husband and Austin Moores as the missing girl’s therapist. They are all suspects and all give us reason to suspect them, but also reason to dismiss them via their performances. Finally the missing girl Megan is played by Ninchai Nok-Chiclana, who is seen through a very effective use of video projection onto the flats of the set design.

The show is directed by Anna J. Crace making her Lyric Arts debut. Hopefully this will be the first of many. Crace’s staging of the play is quite innovative. The projections are used as a sort of flashback whenever one of the characters is telling about an interaction they had with Megan and also as a look inside Rachel’s thought process. At one point when she’s trying to remember things she talks to the projection of Megan. It’s a visually effective way of giving us those moments from the past that’s different from having the missing performer step out into the scene. Not only is it a great idea it’s very well executed by lighting and projection designer Jim Eischen. Eischen’s other lighting effects, particularly those that border each of the set pieces is equally inspired, aiding in the conveyance of different ideas, from the movement of a train to Rachel’s struggle within her mind to remember what she has seen. Chad Van Kekerix’s set design is the perfect backdrop for these effects, and his use of various levels help to immediately transition from one location to another by shifting the action to another area.

The Girl on the Train runs through February 5th at Lyric Arts. For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://www.lyricarts.org/girl-on-the-train

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