- Playing Mac: A Novella in Two Acts and Other Scenes
Grant Tracey's Playing Mac: a Novella in Two Acts and Other Scenes, is a rich second collection by the author of Parallel Lines and the Hockey Universe. As the title suggests, drama is the unifying motif and metaphor that ties this collection together. Several of the stories incorporate stage and drama into their plot and setting; all of the stories are compellingly dramatic and, like some of the finest fiction, highly adaptable to stage or film performance.
Playing Mac, the novella, deals with Stan Traicheff, a man aged forty-two, whose luck has recently run out on him. Separated from his wife and estranged from his two grown sons, he is about to undergo a new infusion of life when he becomes involved in a community theater's production of 42nd Street. Stan's role as Mac, a stagehand, [End Page 186] soon proves a far cry from his after-work habits of poker playing and drinking—habits which cost him both marriage and family. As Stan adopts his theatrical role and takes on a wholly new identity in Mac, he discovers in himself a surprising ability for acting, for empathy. Breaking new ground in selfhood, Stan is quick to enter new real-life relationships, especially his romantic one with actress Ciara O'Brien, aged twenty-one. Ironically, with his brand-new ties, Stan is able to begin the path toward reconciliation with his old ones—namely his wife and two sons. The transformed Stan, empowered with newfound energy and self-confidence, is a person they can now respect. The difference in ages between himself and Ciara troubles him, as does his continued affection for his wife, but Stan's commitment to Ciara wins out in the end. Tracey does a fine job of dramatizing Stan's personal transformation within the context of his theatrical role as Mac and—clearly much more challenging for Stan—within the thorny January/May relationship he and Ciara share.
Playing Mac is followed by several impressive short stories—other "scenes" in the panorama of life. In a number of these stories, acting is central to the plot. In "Jokers," a rather provocative piece, Steve Vassiliev, a stand-up comedian, is generally self-absorbed and given to self-doubt. When he rents a porn flick at a video store, he ends up apologizing to a couple of feminists for having viewed women's bodies in a pornographic way, as a commodity for sale. Steve's apology takes the form of disrobing before the two women, objectifying his own body—an empathetic gesture indeed—and giving new expression to his role as stand-up comic.
Perhaps one of the finest stories in this collection is "For Sharon." Young Stan Traicheff, put off by the way his older brother treats his live-in girlfriend, Sharon, meanwhile lusts after her. Things turn bad when Sharon's former boyfriend, Todd, an ex-con, shows up. In a scene that's been coming for some time, Stan tries to defend his lady love from this intruder, but Sharon ends up leaving with the ex-con. It's a lesson in growing up for Stan, as the adult world, with all its harshness and its uncertainties, impinges on his tender adolescent heart. What makes the story such a fine one is Tracey's ability to capture the essence of young manhood—its various entanglements, its lusts, its monumental hopes and dreams—with remarkable force. [End Page 187]
This second collection is one to note. It establishes Grant Tracey as a writer with a strong sense of dramatic movement and power, and one with insights into what drives human beings in their quest for happiness, personal integrity and self-definition.