Few things in this world are worse than being stuck in an airport with little hope for departure. So, who would think that watching others endure transportation imprisonment would be so captivating? That’s the premise of the WaterTower Theatre’s latest production, Steven Dietz’s Shooting Star, and yet despite the grounded setting, the production soars.
Director Mark Fleischer, currently producing artistic director of Adirondack Theatre Festival and former longtime managing director of Plano Repertory Theatre, has crafted a tight, pensive and polished dramedy that highlights some world-class acting from the two-person cast.
The story takes place in Michael Sullivan’s fantastic set, dressed with the recognizable faux-modern airport deco with silver and black chairs and a parquet floor. A bank of screens is set in the back with projected images (design by Scott Guenther) of cancelled flight messages, window simulations, and imagery to match the thematic monologue asides to the audience.
Reed McAllister (James Crawford) and Elena Carson (Diana Sheehan) bump into each other in a snowed-in airport after having not seen each other in twenty-five years when they were college paramours in Madison during the late 1970s. They were both cut from the same oh-so-earnest liberal cloth of their young adulthood, but Reed has grown into more of a conservative red stater, and Elena has kept faith in her patchouli-scented ideals.
The conversation begins to build and flow, incredibly awkwardly at first (not an easy thing to do as an actor), but then they fall into a charged sort of comfortableness that allows us sweet glimpses of what they must have been like as a loving couple. Many themes are explored en route to some pretty heavy revelations: relationships, friendship, lost love, travel, politics, nostalgia and the pain of remembering, and how our choices shape us.
It takes special actors to pull off a play that is so static in its location, time arc, and a severely limited number of cast members. Never fear, because this pair of professionals puts on an acting clinic that transports the audience way beyond what is already a rather solid little play. Crawford, who gave one of the top performances of the year in Trinity Shakespeare Festival’s magnificent Much Ado About Nothing in 2010, continues to excel with his impeccable timing, a strong ear for the comedic, and his mellifluous delivery. Also, the man just has “gravitas,” even if his character’s boss doesn’t think so.
Sheehan is no slouch either, and plays beautifully with her counterpart. Her Elena is a whirling dervish of a free spirit in a flowing peasant skirt, funky scarf, clogs, and untamed hair. But, beneath all of those hippie accoutrements she is able to express hints of her regret, and buried sorrow.
It is a credit to all involved that we care about these characters, and want to see where they go after their accidental reunion and extended personal connection, or if they are even able to move on in their lives after escaping that damned airport.