B y J a n a R i v e r a
IF, WHEN YOU read the promos for Steven Dietz's play, Lonely Planet, now playing at Borderlands Theater, the first thought in your mind is "Oh no, another AIDS play!" stop right there. It's true that plays about AIDS have become so prevalent in the last decade they are now considered a genre. But Lonely Planet is more than just another AIDS play.
I'll admit that Dietz's message of unyielding devastation in the lives of thousands of gay men is a familiar one, as is his message reproaching society's reprehensible insistence on assigning AIDS victims to either an "innocent" or "other" category, but his delivery is fresh, humorous, and warm.
Exemplary performances by Tim A. Janes and Scott Coopwood under the faultless direction of Chris Wilken take Dietz's play to a level of professionalism one would expect to pay 40 bucks for on a New York stage.
Carl (Coopwood) has wandered into Jody's (Janes) small and tidy map store in an unidentified city, and simply decides to stay. That's not to say he never leaves again--in fact he comes and goes with enormous energy--but he always returns, usually dragging a couple of "abandoned" chairs behind him.
Middle-aged Jody, trying desperately to keep his world uncluttered and under control, takes issue with turning the map store into a chair warehouse, but the younger Carl can't be stopped.
Although we never learn much about the background of either character, we do know each finds solace from a frightening, incomprehensible world within the confines of the map store. They also find comfort in each other, not as lovers, but simply friends.
Carl, an admitted compulsive liar (not to be confused with someone who makes things up), is an art restorer at a museum. Or maybe he waters plants for a corporation. That's when he's not working at the auto-glass repair shop or on the job as a tabloid journalist. He keeps Jody amused with tabloid stories of Christ's face appearing on dishware and mysteries behind famous paintings he's restoring.
Jody, in turn, lets Carl into his existence by sharing his dreams--real or fabricated--each a metaphor for the absurdity of life. Except for a few outbursts by Carl, both avoid talking about the disease that is devouring even those who don't have it.
Dietz's characterizations of Jody and Carl are drawn subtly, not sharply, and in a play where we have little more to go on, this may be a slight weakness. Nevertheless, the sentiment emerges, and although we leave the theater wanting to be closer to Jody and Carl, it seems right they should protect themselves from us, as they are trying to do from the world at large.
As I mentioned before, both performances are exceptional, but Coopwood deserves special mention for his sincere portrayal of a saddened and despairing young man who is "just trying to value my life enough not to throw it into traffic."
During the run of the play, Borderlands Theater will hold a silent auction of unique donated chairs to benefit the Tucson AIDS Project, the People with AIDS Coalition, and the Shanti Foundation.
Borderlands Theater's production of Lonely Planet continues through September 3 with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday, at PCC Center for the Arts, 2202 W. Anklam Road. Ticket prices are $10 general admission with discounts for students and seniors. For reservations, call 882-7406.
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