Steven Dietz The Lonely Planet

Playwright Steven Dietz’s work, ‘The Lonely Planet’ is gripping theater. (Photo: Beth Blickers, Agency for the Performing Arts)

Steven Dietz’s play, Lonely Planet, has been brilliantly produced by the Keen Company. It’s an emotional touchstone harkening back to a time when America was caught in the deadly grip of the AIDS epidemic.

Written in 1993, Lonely Planet is a two-character study that follows Jody (Arnie Burton) and Carl (Matt McGrath) through a world consumed by darkness, doubt and death.

Fear so fully encompasses Jody, he refuses to step outside of his map shop, a metaphorical third character in the play.

“[Maps] are fixed objects. A picture of what’s known,” says Jody about his love for them. Carl, who is an archetypal eccentric foil to Jody’s calmer persona, frequents the store daily, resorting to different tactics to get Jody to face reality.

In what seems to be an effort to get Jody out of his sanctuary, Carl starts filling the store with chairs of all shapes and sizes.

The actual reason for his move is best left for the audience to discover through a personal experience with the piece.

Both Burton and McGrath are gifted comedic actors, but their humor and theatrics have been leashed for this intense, stirring play.

One never feels that Burton is putting on an act; his warmth is intoxicating, making it all the more devastating when he reveals that he needs to be tested. It’s not hard to guess it’s for the AIDs virus.


His struggle to overwhelm the store with chairs creates a tight fist in the audience’s chest.

McGrath’s role is more ostentatious, but Carl’s somewhat annoying demeanor quickly grows on you.

McGrath finds the truth behind his character’s histrionics and an essential hint at the empathy behind his decision to fill the shop with chairs..

There is no question that Jonathan Silverstein’s direction is inherent. It helps these warm, yet conflicted, men navigate demons both external and internal.

Thanks to his hand, notes of humor never feel forced and are embraced wholeheartedly.

The Clurman Theatre provides an intimate setting for Anshuman Bhatia’s clever stage design. The map shop, increasingly congested with chairs, is a metaphor for raw heartache.

When these grappling souls finally seem to find a semblance of peace within themselves, their worlds (or planets, in this case) are turned and forced to refocus.

That being said, Lonely Planet’s execution is distinct in its subtlety and powerful because of it.

The Lonely Planet is now running at Harold Clurman Theater at Theatre Row through November 18th. Visit the Lonely Planet Web site for more information.