Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Lonely Planet

Steven Dietz
Aaron Vodovoz for Surgent Theatre Company
Tabard Theatre

Jody (Alexander McMorra) and Carl (Aaron Vodovoz) Credit: Richard Hubert Smith
Carl (Aaron Vodovoz) and Jody (Alexander McMorra) Credit: Richard Hubert Smith
Carl (Aaron Vodovoz) and Jody (Alexander McMorra) Credit: Richard Hubert Smith

Steven Dietz’s play Lonely Planet is set against the 1980s AIDS crisis when communities were being devastated by a disease that very few people seemed to know much about.

There is no mention of AIDS in the play. Instead there is a sensitive depiction of a warm friendship between two gay men who are responding to the crisis very differently.

They have never been lovers and we never hear who their partners might have been, but we soon realise that something terrible is happening to people they know.

Jody (Alexander McMorra) is in retreat from the world. He has become agoraphobic and hasn’t been out of the map shop where he works for months.

Sometimes he describes dreams in which he wears something that leads others to assume he can do something he can’t such as fight fires or box. Despite saying he cannot do these things, they push him forwards, expecting him to act. He tells Carl, “nothing can prepare you for the fear” you feel at that point.

Reflecting on the way the Mercator map projection helped pilots navigate a straight line but caused Greenland to look much larger than it actually is, he says his Greenland problem is that “people I know are dying.”

Carl (Aaron Vodovoz), who is described by Jody as having the “energy of ten men and the patience of one”, is constantly visiting his friend in the shop and is determined to engage with the problem of those who are dying and Jody’s fear of the world.

The show opens with Jody asking him about a chair he has left in the map shop. He thinks it just gets in the way and even suggests giving it to a charity. But Carl insists it stays and keeps bringing more chairs into the shop.

It soon becomes clear that each chair represents someone who has died from the disease that is hitting the community. This is Carl's way of giving them respect and prodding Jody into some kind of acknowledgement of what is happening.

He also makes up stories about various jobs he’s supposedly doing from art restorer, to tabloid writer again to perhaps encourage Jody to think of the community he has abandoned.

At times they speak directly to the audience. These moments and the stories they tell each other are always gentle and interesting. Their friedship is warm and believable.

Steven Dietz’s writing is sharp, funny and imaginative. It is performed by two fine actors who have been incredibly well directed by Ian Brown.

The play is compassionate, and uplifting. I haven’t enjoyed a performance as much as this in months.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna