In 1994, Steven Dietz wrote a play called "Lonely Planet," which takes place in a small map store "in an unnamed American city" in 1988. Its only characters are Jody and Carl. Jody owns the store and suffers from agoraphobia, so he fears going outside. Carl is Jody's polar opposite, sociable, flamboyant, always popping into the shop.
Yet, as the excellent MetroStage production makes clear, Jody (Michael Russotto) and Carl (Eric Sutton) are drawn together by a painful truth. Their friends are all dying. Although AIDS is never mentioned, it's clear that it is the disease that is killing their friends, a threat to them individually and to the society they inhabit.
Dietz allows Jody and Carl to talk about the horrific nature of the disease in both conventional and unconventional ways. He uses monologues, for instance Carl's monologue about his first best boyhood friend, to mark the agony Carl feels when that friend dies.
|Where: MetroStage, 1201 North Royal St., Alexandria|
|When: Through June 17|
|Info: $25 to $50; 703-548-9044; metrostage.org|
In a more unconventional way, Dietz makes reference to Eugene Ionesco's absurdist play, "The Chairs," to underscore the bizarre nature of the world his characters live in. Jody happens to be reading the play, which conveniently allows Dietz to explain the plot.
Dietz also allows Carl to act out the play, filling Jody's shop with chairs he takes from the homes of his friends who have died. As the map store gets stuffed with every conceivable kind of chair, Dietz achieves the same kind of absurdity Ionesco did in "The Chairs," where a couple fills a room with an endless supply of chairs for invisible guests.
Skillfully directed by John Vreeke, this "Lonely Planet" is a tour de force for Russotto and Sutton, both of whom describe their characters with sensitivity and humor. Russotto makes it clear why he is drawn to the world of maps, which try to make a disorderly world look orderly. He is capable of being entertaining and scholarly at the same time, as in his description of the "Greenland Effect," where Greenland looks abnormally large on old Mercator maps, which flattened out the globe in order to make navigation easier.
Sutton is excellent as the increasingly manic Carl, who sees his world slipping away day by day. He not only salvages his dead friends' chairs; he also takes on their jobs.
Jane Fink's set for "Lonely Planet" is an exquisitely warm, inviting place, with an ancient, burnished aerial map on the back wall, seven globes of different sizes and endless baskets of rolled maps. In the final scene, the set offers a sense of comfort and constancy: people may die, land masses may shift, but maps -- like Jody's and Carl's friendship -- create a sense of continuity.