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Lonely Planet Touches Everyone’s World

Jordan Wright
May 14, 2012
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

Eric Sutton and Michael Russotto in Lonely Planet by Steven Dietz Photo credit: Christopher Banks

Eric Sutton and Michael Russotto in Lonely Planet by Steven Dietz Photo credit: Christopher Banks

When an entire cast consists of only two characters, such as in Steven Dietz’s play Lonely Planet, be assured the piece will reveal a deep exploration of the psyche.  This  thoroughly engaging Ionesco-influenced drama affords a 1980’s gay perspective of a time when the HIV/AIDS crisis was at its apex and death was the prolonged yet assured outcome.  It is a window writ large into the private fears and anguish of those who faced the daily loss of their loved ones.

Jody is the urbane proprietor of Jody’s Maps, a cartography shop in Anytown, USA.  He is consumed with the incongruity of wonky-proportioned Mercator maps its out-sized dimensions of Greenland.  He wants a world more clearly defined by Peters’ Equal Area Maps that reflect the actual scale of the continents.  He is trying to resolve these conflicting issues and sell maps at the same time.

His friend Carl is a fantasist who adopts new professions as seamlessly as a chameleon changes color.  On each visit to Jody’s shop he spins new tales of his day.  Sometimes he’s a crime scene investigator, or an auto glass repairman or a fine art restorer.  Grappling with the constant reality of the death of his friends, he confesses, “I don’t make up things.  I lie.”  But what’s his angle?  Is it a coping mechanism, an innocent transference, or is he a con artist?  Jody is wary but captivated.

The men pass the time with mock tales of Richard Nixon-inspired Shakespearean skits and swordplay with rolled up maps.  “We need to play our game,” Jody challenges.  “The game where we tell the truth?  I prefer to lie a little longer,” Carl admits, spinning tales of Jesus-imaged china as they bear constant witness to the mind-numbing reality of losing their friends.

Each day as their relationship deepens and Carl delivers more chairs to Jody’s small shop, Jody’s disconnectedness grows into agoraphobia.  “No one prepares you for the fear,” he reveals with resentment of how the “straight world” views the deaths of gays from AIDS.  But this play is not a redux of Ionesco’s absurdist farce Les Chaises (The Chairs), nor Angels in America.  It is an intimate and darkly humorous portrait of universal love and loss and the methods we use to cope.  In Carl’s case signified by the burgeoning collection of metaphorical chairs representing his late friends.

Kudos to award-winning Director John Vreeke and Set Designer Jane Fink, a local grad student from George Washington University, who does a brilliant job of evoking a musty map store with all its nooks and crannies.  Memorable performances by Michael Russotto (Jody) and Eric Sutton (Carl) who create a believable bond in the face of unimaginable loss with ferocity, humor and fluidity.

At MetroStage now through June 17th.  1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, 22314.  For tickets and information call 703 548-9044 or visit www.metrostage.org.

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