By nature, shooting stars are ephemeral, evanescent occurrences, which would be an apt description of the chance reunion at the heart of Stephen Dietz's drama Shooting Star, now receiving its New Jersey premiere at Dreamcatcher Rep in an achingly bittersweet production that will bring you near to tears.
Dietz's sparkling, witty dialogue brings to life Reed McAllister and Elena Carson, two former lovers who find themselves stranded in the departure lounge of an airport in middle America by an ever-worsening snow storm. As they reminisce about a relationship that ended 26 years ago, emotions, hurts, disappointments and, yes, secrets bubble to the surface. Will their reunion lead the way to a second chance at romance or has too much water run under the bridge?
Dietz has great fun with references to seventies' culture; those of us who lived through the period will feel familiar with the material. Harry Patrick Christian is phenomenal as businessman Reed, on his way to Austin, Texas, to close a deal he knows will be unsuccessful. Christian may look the role of an MBA, but the tee-shirt and corduroy-wearing grad student who lived with Elena for almost two years at the University of Wisconsin lurks beneath the surface. He ably communicates his concern for his 12-year-old daughter and their rocky relationship, and there is a wistfulness when he talks with Elena about their relationship.
In contrast, Laura Ekstrand's Elena seems to be stuck in a time warp, still the stoner hippie who dreams of making soup for a crowd. Ekstrand inhabits her character like a second skin, endearing and maddening at the same time. Unmarried, working at a phone bank gathering consumer data, she pronounces, "Our youth was a lie," sadly yet wisely. Reaching her forties hasn't been kind to this attractive woman. The weather “outside” may be frightful, but Ekstrand really lights up the stage—indeed, whole black box theater!
Director David Christopher has made the perfect choice in Ekstrand and Christian as the former lovers, for the two have appeared so often together that their relationship is entirely believable. Both provide background with ease and grace as each inhabits the spotlight from time to time. By the time something happens between them, you give a sigh of relief as though it's been a long time coming. But don't get too comfortable, playwright Dietz has a few surprises up his sleeve that will turn your expectations and suppositions on their ears.
The set designed by Wesley Krantz is a simple but familiar one with a large window through which "snowflakes the size of doilies" can be seen falling. Jorge Arroyo's lighting adds to the sense of claustrophobia. Ekstrand's costumes fit the characters very well. Elena's bohemian attire—long skirt, gypsy blouse, poncho, scarf and boots—are both unstylish and evocative of the hippie life style, and Reed’s pinstripe suit, subtle tie and white shirt scream conservative! And Michael Magnifico has selected music that will transport you back to the late seventies instantly; talk about setting a mood!
Shooting Star is the first play by Steven Dietz that I have seen; I certainly hope to see more of his work on the stages of our local professional theaters. His droll, clever dialogue compliments the twists and turns of a bittersweet plot that is matched by impressive performances by two of the area's most accomplished actors. This is a production you should not miss.
Shooting Star will be performed at the Baird Theatre, 5 Mead Street, South Orange, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 2 PM through January 29. Purchase tickets online at www.dreamcatcherrep.org or by calling Brown Paper Tickets at 800.838.3006.
(Photos: Steve McIntyre)