COUPLING Williamson and Rhoads in rehearsal for Trinity’s Shooting Star.
The little two-person play that Trinity Repertory Company is staging in the intimate downstairs theater got its title from the poignant Bob Dylan song "Shooting Star." As in:
Guess it's too late to say the things to you
That you need to hear me say
Saw a shooting star tonight slip away
That was on a 1989 release (Oh Mercy), written when the bard was 46, about the age of two wistful ex-lovers in Steven Dietz's play, which has its share of implied regrets. Twenty-five years after parting, the two in the play meet in an anonymous airport, during an appropriately bleak snowstorm, forced to spend time together and compelled to examine the might-have-been.
The form-fit nature of the theme extended to why Trinity company actor Fred Sullivan took it on to direct, after artistic director Curt Columbus asked him to read it.
"I really liked it because -- and this is going to sound crazy -- because of Facebook," Sullivan says. "Two months before I read this, I got on Facebook, and all these people from my college showed up that I hadn't talked to in 25 years. And suddenly we're having conversations -- typing, but having conversations -- that picked up from 25 years ago."
He is speaking in the top floor rehearsal hall before the first read-through of the play. The actors who will be performing the roles of Elena and Reed, Nance Williamson and Kurt Rhoads, are sitting at the table, smiling in mute agreement.
"So much of it," he continues, referring to the script, "kind of made my chest ache?" The rising inflection was an inquiry to his listeners, about whether we reacted similarly. "I mean, it's laugh out loud funny, and it's really charming, and I like the relationship very much. But this is so brave . . . complex, and dark."
At first, it was obvious to him that he and veteran company actor Phyllis Kay would be perfect for the roles. As he put it, the play is so much about interpersonal chemistry, and he and Kay have been couples onstage for 18 years, from Angels in America to Antigone.
He turns to Rhoads and Williamson and points out that they have been together, both offstage and onstage -- in 54 plays -- for the 25 years of their marriage. "So, chemistry? I said, 'Well, if we can just dip the ladle into that, we're gonna be in great shape.' "
Sullivan says that playwright agrees. "[Dietz] wrote yesterday, 'Tell those troublemakers I love them.' "
Williamson in particular is choice for the role, because she read the parts in its first workshop, in March of last year at the Denver Theater Center. Though she doesn't claim any credit, she had a hand in helping to shape her character. It's unavoidable, she does say, that with the initial actors inhabiting a new play, "it kind of gets like a glove or a shrink-wrap a little bit.
"Steven's dialogue," she adds, "always feels to me like a glove anyway. You put it on and it feels really natural."
Shooting Star may technically be a romantic comedy, but it delves more deeply into the nature of relationships than most do. As Williamson puts it, the play "has some balls."