Lonely Planet, the current production at MetroStage in Alexandria, Virginia, is first and foremost a showcase of acting. Director John Vreeke has guided his two actors, Michael Russotto and Eric Sutton, to give tender and remarkably intimate performances in Steven Dietz's 1994 play about friendship in the age of AIDS.
Jody (Russotto) owns a map store in an unidentified U.S. city and the younger Carl (Sutton) stops in to visit several times a day. They are friends, but neither of them knows much about the otherfor example, Carl spins stories about all the different places he works, and Jody appears to be agoraphobic, unwilling to leave his shop. More cryptically, Carl collects chairs, no two alike, and stashes them in Jody's store.
The play takes place in 1988, when AIDS was still an unquestioned death sentence. Carl states that he has seen 30 of his friends die in the previous six months and only knows for sure who's still alive by whether he sees them at another friend's memorial service.
Jody copes with the uncertainties of lifeincluding, but not limited to, AIDSthrough his fascination with the "fixed objects" in maps, although even those are not always what they seem to be. (As he explains, the common Mercator map of the world compensates for the curvature of the earth by distorting the size and placement of some landmasses. More briefly: Greenland isn't nearly as big as it appears on the map.)
Under Vreeke's empathetic direction, Russotto manages to convey stillness and submerged fear without becoming ponderous, while Sutton is the animating force whose behavior sometimes borders on the manic. Neither of them is dominant; they keep each other in balance.
Jane Fink's scenic design manages to show both the expansiveness Jody finds in his world of maps andas the room fills with chairsthe true, constricting dimension of living and working in a single room. The back wall is papered with brownish, lacquered maps, but a beautiful photo of the earth taken from space hovers above.