Beau Solley & Shannon Corbett in Train to Essex Station. Photo: Highview Arts Center.

Train to Essex Junction

By David S. Traub, Jr.
Directed by Vin Morreale, Jr.

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

For the second night in a row, I watched the world premiere of a play that is based closely on a personal experience. While it is nothing new that writers draw from their own lives, such careful recreations of real-life moments can seem more documentary than drama. 

Train to Essex Junction recounts a 10-hour train ride up the northeast corridor from Philadelphia to the northernmost parts of Vermont by Stephen Logan (Beau Solley). He first has a prickly encounter with Jim Byrnes (John Heffley), the Service Attendant on the train, before encountering two women passengers who could not be sharper in their contrast. The sober, bookish Jennifer (Rayann Houghlin Walker) is on her way to a new job at Smith College, and the free-spirited Agnes (Shannon Corbett) is en route to a New Age experience near Montpellier.

The conversations reveal the characters, their past, and their vulnerabilities, and suggests some genuine connections have been made before Essex Junction. Yet there is also a sense of sadness that the encounters will not amount to more. It’s a variation on Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge st San Luis Rey, which attempts to find significance in random interaction. Playwright David S. Traub, Jr. has nothing so weighty as that on his mind, but he manages to honor both the capacity for human connection and our tendency to take it for granted.

The writer was in attendance, and in an impromptu exchange with the audience after the performance, Traub strenuously affirmed that everything happened just as he depicted it in his play, practically denying the hand of the artist in shaping the material. If he has indeed been that faithful to his experience, he at least condensed and focused the story effectively. Give yourself a little more credit, Mr. Traub.

The small cast does good work. Beau Solley is a bit self-conscious as an actor, but he has a visceral presence (and great hair) and finds the lonely, rueful heart of Stephen, and John Heffley is effective in his phlegmatic, understated work as Jim Byrnes. Rayann Houghlin Walker is appropriately dour and guarded as Jennifer, allowing snippets of her true self to emerge, but she remains, intentionally I think, something of an enigma. She and Stephen are shown to have a lengthy conversation of some significance but we are not allowed to hear it, which may be Traub’s most intriguing choice. Agnes’s arrival on the train is a whirlwind of color and movement for the larger-than-life character, and Shannon Corbett beautifully captures the joie de vivre of the woman that is facade for a sad and lonely person desperate to find meaning and human connection in her life. 

There is a nice set design-on-a-budget by Jill Marie Schierbaum and simple but effective sound from Taylor Torsky and lighting by Cameron Konz.

If the premise of Train to Essex Junction seems slight, it at least seeks understanding of the human condition. Traub wisely doesn’t push past a tight one act structure, but he clearly discovered a surprisingly insightful confluence of personalities on this train so many years ago, and whatever his claims of authenticity, we know that memories are reconfigured the more we revisit them, so this Train has been shaped over time into one particular journey.

Featuring Shannon Corbett, John Heffley, Beau Solley, Rayann Houghlin Walker

Train to Essex Junction

March 24, 25 @ 7:30 PM
March 26 @ 2:00 PM

Highview Arts Center
7406 Fegenbush Lane
Louisville, KY 40228

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM /, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for