The road not taken

 A brief encounter in Trinity’s Shooting Star
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  October 29, 2009

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CATCHING UP Rhoads and Williamson in Trinity’s Shooting Star. Photo: MARK TUREK

Shooting Star, by Steven Deitz, got its title from a Bob Dylan lyric that speaks of poignant regret. Not only can you not go home again to where the heart belongs, the current Trinity Repertory Company production suggests that you are liable for additional heartache if you get in the vicinity. It’s running through November 22,

Billed as a romantic comedy, the play certainly is full of humor as well. The two characters in this short play, lovers from 25 years before, stumble upon each other in an airport and try to make their good-natured best out of shared memories and present situations.

Reed McAllister (Kurt Rhoads) and Elena Carson (Nance Williamson) are blizzard-bound overnight, forced to confront their mutual past before they fly off to their futures. They had lived together for 22 months in the early 1970s when they were students at the University of Wisconsin. He is a mid-level executive, basically a salesman, on his way to sign up an account he needs in order to impress his boss, although he knows that both tasks are hopeless. She is heading to Boston to comfort a friend in crisis, although she eventually reveals an even more personal mission.

They address the audience separately at the beginning and occasionally throughout, as though recalling their states of mind to friends. Initially, she doesn’t want to admit she noticed him, wanting him to greet her first. He is reluctant also, telling us how we politely begin conversations in these situations “out of a shared desire to be done talk-ing.” He points out how life is a complex gridwork of near misses, reluctant encounters narrowly avoided.

In fact, Reed had seen Elena a few years before at an airport and didn’t go over to her. He didn’t do so, he tells her, because she seemed so confident at the time, implying that this time she seemed vulnerable. She also appears to not have left the ’70s behind, wearing a granny skirt and carrying a rain stick. He is wearing a suit and tie, of course, just like when she used to play dress-up with him with her father’s clothes, back when they were both Democrats, as she puts it.

This is a short play, only 80 minutes, running without intermission. Directed by Fred Sullivan Jr., it makes its slight points without over-elaborating. How much stays with us depends as much on how it is presented as what it presents. Rhoads and Williamson, a married couple in offstage life, have plenty of what’s usually called chemistry to spark and sizzle in all the right places here. For the exchanges in Shooting Star run the gamut, from laughter to anger, from social niceties to examinations of conscience. Our under-standing of them and theirs of each other unfolds interestingly and even with some suspense: when Elena says a couple always has an agreed-upon reason for breaking up and also their real reasons, she mentions that she never told him hers and then changes the subject. Playwright Dietz has written something closer to a sonnet than to an epic poem, but it does scan properly.

There are at least a couple of false notes in this duet, however. When Elena asks what he remembers about her and he mentions her devotion to National Public Radio, she gets furious that he didn’t come up with a more flattering attribute than her being “the NPR girl.” But wouldn’t that more plausibly invoke a humorous objection? (My favorite funny — and characterizing — moment is Elena being loudly baffled that anybody would donate: “You can listen for free, and they don’t know who you are!”) Similarly, it’s hard to believe that Elena would be angry at him for not setting her straight about her wide-eyed hippie optimism, especially after all these years. Do any women with any self-respect own up to such overdependence?

There’s the obligatory abortion recollection for this sort of a story, but for the most part this play keeps things fresh and unpredictable. Like the image of its title, Shooting Star gives us something to wonder about for a while and then passes on. 

Related: Dynamic duo, Trinity's rollicking Absurd Person Singular, Trinity Rep's uplifting It's A Wonderful Life, More more >
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