Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet, at California Stage, is a moving little drama about AIDS.

Rated 4.0 The swath cut through urban society by AIDS over the last two decades also sparked some memorable plays. Some—like Angels in America or Love! Valour! Compassion! (both Pulitzer winners)—are big-canvas dramas. And local professional theaters steered clear of them, perhaps because of the large casts they require or their overtly gay themes.AIDS also underlies Steven Dietz’s smaller and more delicate play Lonely Planet, currently being presented by Synergy Stage. It’s actually been done locally once before (by the Sacramento Theatre Company, about six years ago). But enough time has passed that a new production is most welcome—especially since Dietz’s script (unlike some of the angrier, AIDS-inspired blockbusters) seems better than ever the second time around.

It’s a compassionate, two-character drama about friendship and courage in difficult times. The story takes place in a single location—an out-of-the-way map shop on an old street in a city somewhere in America. Jody (Peter Mohrmann) runs the business, with frequent interruptions from the talkative Carl (David Harris).

Playwright Dietz uses simple metaphors—maps of the world and old, discarded chairs—to create resonant images onstage and between your ears, opportunities director Martha Omiyo Kight adeptly develops in this community production.

Mohrmann quietly turns a seemingly everyday moment—holding the telephone, waiting while “on hold"—into a pivotal moment (given context), a beautiful bit of understated acting. And Harris, sitting alone in the map shop as the lights go down at the end, uses mute silence as effectively as he’d earlier used gab.