Making its well-deserved UK premiere, Lonely Planet at Tabard Theatre brings our attention back to the horrifying times when there was a silent killer in our midst. One who spread quickly without a cure and one who goes by the name AIDS.
Steven Dietz’ Lonely Planet is a poignant account of fearing the unknown. The play is set in Jody’s (Alexander McMorran) map shop somewhere in America. Jody has a regular customer, Carl (Aaron Vodovoz), who enjoys spending time listening to Jody tell stories about his maps and dreams. The relationship, though has tension at times, grows as close friends around them begin to die unexpectedly and leave behind their empty chairs.
Subtle lines sprinkled throughout Dietz’ script enhanced the play with metaphors between maps and HIV. Dietz’ writing allowed audiences to connect with his characters from their asides. McMorran, as the intelligent map connoisseur, lectured the audience on the art of maps and how our perceptions of different types of maps are often skewed. McMorran’s line, “People I know are dying. This is my Greenland problem,” is a brilliant way of connecting a map problem to the effect of a virus.
McMorran’s performance was emotionally engaging and had a level of sincerity we hope to see in a great drama. Alongside McMorran was Vodovoz who played a scatty man often caught in the middle of a lie. Even with a line stumbled over here and there, Vodovoz completely embodied Carl’s genuine motives of helping Jody. Frantically rushing in and out, Vodovoz gave his character a room-filling energy that immediately brightened the scene.
This play starts the minute you take your seat. Nik Corrall’s beautiful set filled with hundreds of maps and chairs putting in perspective the time of the story. The 1980s fashion was clear in the costumes, which made a strong statement about who these two characters were and the life they were living.
Our cultural awareness of HIV has changed over time. The play appearing in the early 90s was relatable and showed the signs of a deadly virus that spread without warning or a cure. Now, with modern medicine, HIV is a known creature. With an understanding of this deadly virus, the impact of HIV in a play is less of a shock factor for audiences and more of an empathetic approach. Lonely Planet is a remarkable play that challenges us to face our fate of fearing the unknown.
Review by Aly Chromy
Recipient of the PEN U.S.A. Award in Drama, Lonely Planet originally premiered in Northlight Theatre, Illinois in 1993. Considered his most widely performed work, this production marks its UK premiere from award-winning playwright Steven Dietz, recently placed eighth on the list of the Top Ten Most Produced Playwrights in America, equal to Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams.
It’s the 1980s in an unknown American city. There is no internet and mobile phones are a rarity, sharing information and knowledge is near impossible. It’s dark, and communication is hard. A poster appears at a local store, it’s a photo of a person’s torso with lesions all over. It’s an unknown condition that spreads quickly.
Lonely Planet is a heartfelt, funny and ultimately moving play that focuses on the friendship between Jody, a cautious and thoughtful man who insulates himself in the map store he owns; and Carl, a frequent visitor to the store with an unusually vivid imagination and multiple, ever-changing occupations. Carl notices Jody has been isolating himself from the world and starts bringing chairs into his shop to convince him to confront the fears which prevent him from leaving his store. The play shows an individual’s struggle to come to terms with illness, their own mortality and the stigma associated with AIDS.
Playwright Steven Dietz
Director Ian Brown
Set and Costume Design Nik Corrall
Lighting Design Will Scarnell
Sound Design Peter West
Stage Manager Rachel Graham
Producer Aaron Vodovoz for Surgent Theatre Company
Cast: Alexander McMorran and Aaron Vodovoz
27 June – 15 July 2017
Running Time: 1 hour 50 minutes with a 15 minute interval