Flat Rock Playhouse production The Girl on the Train is a modern-day whodunit

Published 12:25 pm Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The Girl on the Train is unlike most plays that command the stage at Flat Rock Playhouse. It is a serious and gritty play, addressing serious topics about modern society. Technology is an important communication tool in this play with foreboding techno music, driving percussion and repetitive haunting melodies. Creatively controlled lighting draws the eye to what might or might not be important. And, digital projections on multiple moving panels, along with the sound of rattling trains and telling voices, create collages of cubist images that signal flashbacks, headline news and the rushing commuter train that Rachel rides every day to nowhere. 

If you get a little confused watching this modern-day whodunit, don’t sweat it. Keeping the audience guessing is all part of the theatrical experience that tells the story of a woman who spends a rollercoaster week trying to fill in the informational gaps of a murder that she may have committed.

Rachel’s daily train rides are the cornerstones of the story. Having lost her job and seemingly most of her mind after her divorce, Rachel rides the train to keep tabs on her ex-husband’s new life with a wife and baby and another couple just a few doors down — Anna and Tom Watson — whom she fantasizes about being the perfect couple. As the train passes their homes, Rachel spies on everything from domestic baby bliss to romantic encounters. 

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The play is gripping from the opening scene when Rachel wakes up with a really bad hangover in a wreck of an apartment. She is covered in blood and has a gash on her head. As she tries to remember what happened, her mind is awash with partial memories of glass breaking and screams. 

Playing the besotted ex-wife Rachel is Leslie Collins, who is now in her 11th show at Flat Rock Playhouse. Other shows you may have seen her in include The Unexpected Guest, Cinderella, Leading Ladies, Unnecessary Farce and Thoroughly Modern Millie. Collins spent more than 20 years in New York City and Los Angeles performing in theater and television. Other work has taken her from England to Australia. Collins is put to the test as Rachel, who until the bitter end is a character we find hard to like. She is pitiful, pathetic, desperate, confused, and at times a little scary — all traits that Collins pulls off with aplomb. 

Michael Shenefelt plays Rachel’s ex, Tom, a seemingly stand-up kind of guy. Gracie Winchester plays his new wife Anna, who has about enough of Rachel’s hysterics and baby-napping. Megan and Scott — played by Laura Woyasz and William Connell — are the nice folks a few doors down who seemingly have a great marriage. Thrown into the mix is therapist Kamal, played by Jason Rojas.

I salute Flat Rock Playhouse for hosting this regional premiere of a play that can be hard to like but certainly demands to be appreciated. It challenges our sense of right and wrong, our ability to discern the truth from lies and our innate want for neat and tidy story lines. As we look desperately for pieces of truth that we hope will make sense of the horrors of life, we might fail to see the screaming voids that actually tell us what is true.

The Girl on the Train was first presented as a best-selling novel by Paula Hawkins in 2015. It was released as a movie in 2016 starring Emily Blunt. Its first appearance as a play was in 2018 in England, adapted by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel. Since then, it has played to mixed reviews in the United States. The play is currently running at Flat Rock Playhouse through September 2.