by Steven Dietz
Directed by Mark Fleischer
Scenic Design: Michael Sullivan
Lighting Design: Jeff Stover
Costume Design: Terry Martin
Sound Design: Scott Guenther
Reed McAllister - James Crawford
Elena Carson - Diana Sheehan
Reviewed Performance 5/30/2011
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
"Seen a shooting star tonight
And I thought of you?
Seen a shooting star tonight
Slip away?." Bob Dylan, "Shooting Star"
"Someone has your secret. Someone from your past. They have your secret because they once had your heart?." Steven Dietz
Two actors. One set. Ninety minutes. These are the parameters in the play SHOOTING STAR written by Steven Dietz and directed by Mark Fleischer.
For actors, a two-character play is filled with both opportunities and problems. The opportunities, of course, are the chance to play fully developed characters with plenty of time to explore the relationship with the other character, usually in an exciting and/or unusual set of given circumstances, with the full attention of an audience. The problems are that there is no chance to "catch up" and take a breath and there is no place to hide. Because the audience's attention is on you the entire evening, the concentration and focus must be constant which is both exhilarating and exhausting.
Fortunately, the two actors in SHOOTING STAR meet these challenges with the skill and the confidence that make their performances a joy to watch.
Set in 2005 in an airport in the Midwest during a snowstorm, two people, former lovers during their days together in college, have a chance encounter 25 years later. Decades of change and experience have shaped them internally and in Reed's case, externally as well. He lives in Boston with his family and is trying to get to Austin for a business meeting that he knows is pointless. Elena, who lives alone in Austin, is trying to get to Boston to see an old friend. But things are just not that coincidental. Reed's wife is moving out, he had an argument with his daughter, and the person Elena is meeting in Austin may not be the "old friend" she mentions. Will the chance encounter reunite the pair, or is the meeting just as ephemeral and brilliant as a shooting star?
To watch two actors as skilled and confident as James Crawford and Diana Sheehan inhabit the lives of these two people is a real privilege. Each seems completely secure in who their character is, where they've come from and what is happening in each moment of their story.
Watch Crawford's stillness and subtle emotional responses at the beginning and then see how he reveals the hurt and pain as the character tells us of the "open relationship" the couple shared, so indicative of the 70's lifestyle among those who were convinced they believed in it. Observe his love for his daughter as he speaks of her and to her. Then watch as the business man relaxes and becomes more open, and we see the "old/young" Reed once again.
Watch Sheehan embody the looseness and expansive physical nature of Elena, (perhaps a little too obviously "acted" at first) - the yoga poses, the rain stick, the quasi "hippy" dress style she still hangs on to, and then see those gestures and the body language change as she reveals more about herself. See the subtle shifts in body and hear the vocal qualities change as she tells her secret over the phone to Reed's daughter. As the evening progresses, watch one actor expand while the other seems to contract. And then see them almost come together at the same time and place.
The beautiful thing is that they are not afraid to take their pauses and their moments when they come. They've earned them. Each new beat of their story is clear and seems inevitable. Watch how they embody the objects in their wallets with a back story and dramatic weight. You believe that she's looking at pictures of his wife and daughter, that he is seeing things in her wallet for the first time. That takes skill, folks! And commitment and, yes, experience. Their chemistry works for the story, and you accept them as the couple they were and the people they now are.
Mark Fleischer's direction is non-intrusive but clearly helps us understand the relationship these people had, where it is now and how it develops as the snow piles up, flights are canceled, and liquor helps the couple reveal more and more. Shifting two actors around a small set over 90 minutes, maintaining focus where it needs to be, and keeping it visually interesting is no small feat. Their placement in relation to each other on the waiting room seats says as much as the dialogue and Elena's picking up the literal pieces of their shared moment at the end speaks volumes.
The brilliant set is by Michael Sullivan. The waiting room of the airport is impersonal, sterile and functional, and the use of projections throughout perfectly balanced with the tone and mood of the play. We've all sat in this waiting room. The lighting by Jeff Stover keeps us in tune with the structure of the script ? the addresses to the audience and the moments with each other ? without being abrupt and overly obvious. Terry Martin's costumes work for the characters. We know who they are immediately by what they wear and that's what a good costume does. Sound by Scott Guenther, who also designed the terrific projections, keeps us in contact with the place, time and mood.
Steven Dietz, who teaches playwriting at UT Austin, was listed in 2010 as one of the top ten most produced playwrights in America (excluding Shakespeare), tied with Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams for eighth place. One cynical critic has said that the reason for this is he writes easily produced one-set shows with small casts. That may be a little harsh. Is SHOOTING STAR a great play? No. Is it even a very good play? Maybe. The audience opening night laughed and sighed and got very still at all the right places. Their chuckles at music and book references and the "free and open" life-style of the 70's, as well as knowing laughs and nods about travel and family, gave indications of how much they were involved, but the two strong performances clinched the deal. The audience wasn't judging the script, they were living the experience of the story, and that has been what theatre is about from the beginning of time.
Reed says that his daughter once told him that if it's okay for someone to leave, then "goodbye" is the right word but if it's not alright, it ought to be "badbye." Which was it for Elena and Reed 25 years ago and which is it now? I think Dietz is saying that in life, most partings and reunions are some of both and that "hello" can be as loaded as "goodbye." That things change and when we look back, what was a "badbye" may have been a "goodbye" or maybe never even a leaving at all.
Dietz once said in an interview, "In some ways we all have three pasts: We have the past we remember, we have the past that we may have transcribed or written in the journal or diary and we have the past that actually happened. The tension between what we remember, what we invent and what actually happened is fairly inexhaustible." Thanks to the strong acting and production values at Water Tower, we understand all of these versions. Something else we see is how the young, self-absorbed person of the past can become the older generation able to give a heartfelt "hello" to the next generation with the same love and compassion these characters exhibit to their offspring, a "hello" that will become both a "good" and "bad" bye as these children grow and change and leave.
Align your star with those at Water Tower Theatre. Like the story you heard from the stranger on the plane that touched your heart, you won't be sorry.
WaterTower Theatre at Addison Theatre Centre
15650 Addison road, Addison, TX 75001
Runs through June 26th
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays and Saturdays
at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm with an added Saturday matinee June 25th at 2:00 pm
Tickets are from 27-$35, depending on the day & the Saturday matinee is $25. For tixs or info please call their box office at 972-450-6232 or go to www.watertowertheatre.org.