by Nancy Holley
Special KRL coupon at the end of this article
Director Irene Morse is effusive about Lonely Planet and playwright Steven Dietz. Morse praises Dietz’s ability to depict emotions from grief to giddiness with few words. According to Morse, Dietz had been mulling the idea for a play about friends dealing with crisis when he read Ionesco’s The Chairs and realized that chairs were the perfect vehicle for describing “a horrific time in a light hearted and quirky way.” Chairs are an important part of all our lives. Who has not said, “You can’t sit there. That’s (my) chair”? Who does not have a favorite chair that has withstood remodeling, redecorating, and garage sale purges? Dietz had found the answer for presenting a serious topic with humor.
The production venue is Reader’s Theatre, with the story unfolding in the beholders’ imagination based on the author’s words and the actors’ voices. Reader’s Theatre is a new directing convention for Morse who welcomes the expansion of her directing repertoire.
Morse indicated that the challenge in directing Reader’s Theatre is to “trust the author to tell the story, and the audience to get it!” For Morse, closing her eyes and listening to her actors allows her to imagine what the audience will see in the mind’s eye. “What the actors say and how they say it is critical. I am happy with what is developing,” Morse commented confidently.
Lonely Planet has two characters: Carl (Sergio Garza), who is a “nut case,” and Jody (Keith Lindersmith), who is scared of what is happening in the outside world. Despite their differences, Carl and Jody are good friends who support each other. Carl’s ability to spin yarns about his never ending “so-called careers” provides humor to lighten Jody’s heart and the play’s somber message.
Garza became enthralled with Lonely Planet at first reading and knew that if the play were ever produced, he wanted to be involved. Garza describes Carl as “going a mile a minute in his head, not wanting to recognize what is happening. If he stops, he may not be able to move again.” Garza was young at the time of the AIDS crisis in the U.S., and although he sensed there was a problem, did not comprehend its significance. As an adult, he is frightened by the “lack of concern” about HIV and AIDS expressed by younger gay men who did not experience the crisis of the 1980s, and because of the advancement in HIV/AIDS drugs in the U.S. do not comprehend the ultimate danger.
Lindersmith did not understand how close to home the play’s message would come until recently. As he became acquainted with Jody, he understood Jody more than he realized he would. A particularly empathetic scene occurs when Jody is to be tested for AIDS. Lindersmith remembers the anxieties associated with his first AIDS test, obtaining an anonymous number and fearing the result.
Lindersmith believes Carl is Jody’s lifeline to the outside world, “Without Carl, Jody would have been a hermit. The play’s construction is ingenious,” concludes Lindersmith, presenting a heavy subject with humor and wit.
Why see Lonely Planet? “Steven Dietz is a genius,” says Morse enthusiastically. Set in the 1980s at the heart of the AIDS crisis, Lindersmith views the show as a must-see for “those who lived through this very scary time.” Garza, who was only 10 years old during the height of the AIDS epidemic in the U.S., believes “it’s a good time to bring back into focus a disease that has not disappeared,” and still has no cure.
Lonely Planet opens at the Ice House Theatre, Race and Santa Fe in Visalia, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, February 11, 2011 and runs for two weekends, with evening performances at 7:30 p.m. on 2/11, 2/12, 2/18 and 2/19, and matinees at 2:00 p.m. on 2/13 and 2/20.
For more information about the Visalia Players, check out their website. For details about local arts groups in Tulare County, visit www.artsconsortium.org
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Visalia Community Players Two-For-One Coupon
By Steven Dietz
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7:30 p.m. – Saturday Night February 12, 2011
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