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Glenda Frank


"Lonely Planet"


Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

“Lonely Planet” by Steven Dietz, directed by Jonathan Silverstein.
Keen Company production at the Harold Clurman Theatre
410 W. 42 St., Theatre Row, NYC.
Oct. 3 – Nov. 18 2017. Tuesday - Thursday @ 7 PM;
Friday and Saturday @ 8 PM; Saturday @ 2 PM; Sunday @ 3 PM.
$20 – $65.
For tickets and information, call 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400
or visit the box office or www.telecharge.com
or http://www.keencompany.org.


The Keen Company’s revival of “Lonely Planet” (1992) by Steven Dietz at the John Clurman Theater is a gem -- funny, smart, poignant. It’s an absurdist two-hander about friendship during a time of AIDS. Arnie Burton as Jody and Matt McGrath as Carl offer performances that seem natural and relaxed yet run the gamut from irony to terror, annoyance to wild joy. What Burton can do with a glance and McGrath with his voice are masterful . The exchanges feel easy, right. We enter their world because they have invited us in. And because they are continually interesting and inventive.

The play is set in Jody’s map store – with its antique cash register, map files, colorful displays -- a visual pleasure (Anshuman Bhatia, designer).  Jody is perplexed by a chair that has suddenly appeared in the middle of his shop. When Carl arrives bursting with exuberant  language,  he admits he placed it there. Carl is a man-about-town, an raconteur with stories about his many jobs – as a glass repairer, an art restorer, a professor, and a moving man.  Jody accuses him of making everything up, and Carl admits it.  Playwright Dietz’s absurdity reaches through comedy into metaphor and heartbreak.  But not for a while, not until we are thoroughly hooked by the mystery of the many chairs that clutter the shop,  the puzzle of Carl,  and the conundrum of why Jody won’t leave the store.

Arnie Burton and Matt McGrath. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

As the stage bulks up -- with chairs of varying design, functions, colors – the two men must make new paths to the water cooler, to  the desk, to each other.   (Yes, they discuss Ionesco’s play “The Chairs.”) Carl asks Jody, “Don’t you recognize these chairs?”   The maps, Jody tells us, are “surrogates of space, pictures of what is known.” They are how we see the world -- with their inevitable  distortions. It’s early in the plague for the characters, but not for us, to recognize the global spread of AIDS. Carl described the many memorial services that he attends as “anger channeled into ceremony,” where people learn who is still alive. The dead are glamorized, he says, then ignored.  Dietz’s language is  alive;  his phrases,  graceful and deliberate, verbal  gymnasts, even in random chit-chat, as when Carl tells Jody, “You’ve been a good friend. You’re like the little brother I never wanted to have.”

“Tell me your dream,” Carl repeated asks.  In each dream, Jody, mistaken for a fireman or a boxer, feels he has to rescue people, but he can’t.  He’s wearing borrowing shirts -- and Carl is always in the dream.  

Two-handers are hard to write, hard for actors to maintain up a dynamic. Director Jonathan Silverstein guided his actors on a balance beam between the allegoric and fully dimensional figures on an emotional journey. Keen Company has excelled in its mission to tell “stories in which people strive to live with integrity.” This is a powerful revival.

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