Trafalgar Studios 2, London – until 7 July 2018
It’s often been said that as human beings we leave traces of ourselves on the lives of others we leave behind. But beyond the memories, places and things of a physical nature have significance too… Written by Steven Dietz and directed by Ian Brown, Lonely Planet is set in ‘Jody’s Maps’, a specialist store in the US, not unlike the shop in Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road.
Jody (Alexander McMorran) is the eponymous proprietor and while he doesn’t have many visitors, he can always count on one person turning up every day – Carl (Aaron Vodovoz). Before he ‘goes to work’, Carl stops by and delivers another fabricated tale about what he’s getting up to. Jody and Carl have many such routines – inventive ways of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.
Of course, ‘telling the truth’ also becomes a ‘game’ for them, but there are some things they don’t talk about. Asides from this verbal to-ing and fro-ing, Carl has got into the habit of bringing random chairs into Jody’s shop – so much so that the store starts to look like the set of Steptoe & Son (or to use a more appropriate US-centric reference, Sanford & Son).
As the play is set in the latter half of the 1980s when mobile phones were just making an appearance, there is one ‘fear’ during that encapsulates the zeitgeist and transcends international boundaries – the spectre of AIDS. The play, however, doesn’t delve into this straightaway but subtly broaches the subject.
Carl and Jody have mutual friends – some who are alive and some who aren’t. Carl is the most visibly affected by how AIDS has affected the gay community, but in his quieter way Jody is perhaps more so. He’s also fearful of going for an AIDS test, which many of his peers have already taken. In a very real sense, their situation mirrors the elderly in that they regularly hear of friends and loved ones who are ‘sick’, knowing all too well that AIDS exacts a ‘social death’ which precedes the actual physical one.
Dietz’s writing has a way of conveying what’s at stake that is both relatable AND profound. The use and variation of Jody’s recurring dreams reveal his suppressed anxiety at being the ‘last man standing’. It is, however, through the metaphors of maps and perspective that we see ‘the bigger picture’ – the latitude and longitude of people’s lives intersecting, plus “the Greenland problem”.
McMorran and Vodovoz are excellent in their respective roles, the proverbial odd couple who annoy each other no end, but who also never give up on each other. For a play that deals with the darkest of circumstances, it offers a lot of hope and a reminder of the importance of remembrance.
© Michael Davis 2018
Lonely Planet runs at Trafalgar Studios 2 until 7th July.
On Tuesday and Friday night performances, there will also be speakers after the show, answering questions related to the topics raised in the play.
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