February 26, 2011 Leave a comment
By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune
Elena Carson is a public radio fiend, her luggage crammed into an oversized wicker bag. She’s got a colorful scarf, dangling earrings and a seamless transition from a yoga pose to a hiding spot beneath the plastic chairs in an airport.
This comes in handy when she realizes she is sharing travel purgatory with Reed McAllister, her college lover, soul mate, partner, a man she lived with and loved for two years — a quarter of a century ago.
She hasn’t changed a bit, Reed notes. Like, at all. She seems to have escaped the part of aging where the idealism fades.
Reed has changed. She calls him a “businessman in a box”: suit, tie, pocket square, smart phone, briefcase. She always knew he’d eventually lean to the right.
“Shooting Star,” a 2008 play by Steven Dietz and directed by Sharon Dixon Obst, is what happens when a former couple turned strangers are trapped at a Midwest airport during an epic storm. The show at The Shack in Superior is billed as “exes playing exes,” as it stars the once-married Lawrence Lee and Charlotte VanVactor.
Dietz, who has Minnesota ties, has published more than 30 plays in the past 25 years, meaning he could go stride for stride with Stephen King in a marathon of the prolific. He has managed to defy being tied to a certain type of play — he adapted “Go, Dog, Go” for the stage as well as “Dracula,” in addition to original, contemporary pieces. But something he told Playbill Online in 2003, before “Shooting Star” was published, seems to ring true with this one:
“In some way 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.”
“Shooting Star” starts with uncomfortable small talk. Reed seems reluctant to invest much in the meeting with Elena, he suggests they hit just the “roman numerals,” the bullet points of the past two and a half decades.
When they realize they are going to be waiting awhile, they exchange wallets — a conversation bridge that Elena has used on past blind dates.
Layers of life and half-truths are revealed and their relationship is dissected, both in the characters’ verbalized words and inner monologue, which are spoken directly to the audience. They make a good
couple, despite just a wisp of overlap on the Myers Briggs personality test.
Lee said in an interview before the show that he was attracted to the script for its writing, and that it sounds like something he would come up with himself. He nails the combination of starched shirt and logical, the kind of guy who keeps his eye on satellite images of storm fronts.
VanVactor gets to dish the brunt of the script’s comedy and has the most colorful descriptive lines, which sound almost like spoken word poetry at times. VanVactor’s background in musical theater is clear as she floats around the small stage and at one point hops atop a table draped in a robe, arms extended, big old smile, feeling no pain.
Things heat up in the second act. Elena lets her hair down; Reed ditches the tie. Some of the best action happens on the floor, the former couple surrounded by mini plastic lotion and shampoo containers filled with whiskey and margaritas, and it’s tricky to see from behind the front row of tables. And believe me, unless you are the teenage children of Lee and VanVactor, this is something you want to see.
This review was published in the Saturday, February 26, 2011 edition of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.