Lonely Planet

By Dietz, Steven | American Theatre, December 1995 | Go to article overview
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Lonely Planet

Dietz, Steven, American Theatre

About the Playwright

Steven Dietz's works for the stage, which include God's Country, Handing Down the Names, Trust, Halcyon Days, Happenstance, Ten November, Boomtown, Foolin' Around with Infinity, Painting It Red and More Fun Than Bowling, have been produced at over 80 regional theatres around the country, as well as Off Broadway. His stage adaptations include Shusaku Endo's Silence, produced by the Milwaukee Repertory Theater and the Institute of Dramatic Arts in Tokyo; Bram Stoker's Dracula for the Arizona Theatre Company; and Joyce Simmons Cheeka's The Rememberer for the Seattle Children's Theatre. In addition to directing productions of his own work, he has directed the world premiere of John Olive's The Voice of the Prairie, Jon Klein's T Bone N Weasel, Jim Leonard's Gray's Anatomy, Doris Baizley's Tears of Rage, Tom Williams's New Business, Kevin Kling's 21-A, and the American premiere of Eskil Hemberg's opera, Saint Erik's Crown. Mr. Dietz has been awarded playwriting fellowships from the McKnight and Jerome Foundations and the National Endowment for the Arts. His most recent plays are Private Eyes, which will premiere at the Arizona Theatre Company this spring, and The Nina Variations. He lives in Seattle and is a member of the Seattle Playwrights Alliance.

About the Play

Lonely Planet the winner of the 1994 PEN USA West Literary Award in Drama, received its world premiere at Northlight Theatre, Evanston, Illinois, in January 1993 under the direction of the playwright. The play has received subsequent productions at A Contemporary Theatre, Seattle; San Jose Repertory Theatre; Circle Repertory Company, New York City; The Barrow Group, New York City; Cricket Theatre, Minneapolis; Collision Theatre, Milwaukee; Actors Theatre of Phoenix; Pope Theatre Company, Manalapan, Florida; The Other Theatre, Denver; and Borderlands Theater, Tucson. Among the upcoming productions of the play is the Los Angeles premiere at the Fountain Theatre in May, 1996.

Risking Sentiment

An interview with the playwright

At one point in Lonely Planet, Jody's reading Ionesco's The Chairs while surrounded by the maps in his store and the chairs Carl has brought in. How did Ionesco influence you, and when in the writing process did this influence filter in?

I had reread The Chairs five years earlier. Out of some 40-odd plays, I'd never directed one by a dead playwright, and a theatre asked me to suggest some. I had read Ionesco's The Chairs as a possible option. But nothing ever came of that. Three fundamental strands formed this play. First, my love of maps is obvious - my house had gradually filled up with them until it looked a lot like Jody's Maps. Second, the play was written for the actors Michael Winters and Larry Ballard, although obviously the play isn't the story of their lives. What brought these strands together was that it seemed odd to me that many of the fundamental relationships in my life were friendships. In previous plays when I'd used the word "friend" I'd kind of tossed it off: I'd write a play and say here's the lead character and here's his "friend." Lonely Planet is an homage to friendship. So the map store was the trigger to write about friendship - and Michael and Larry were the vehicle to bring it to life.

And then the tone found itself in the theatre of the Absurd?

It did because I wrote the first draft very quickly, in two weeks. Being a director before I was a writer, I tend to do a lot of structural work on a play. But in this case, I didn't know what the chairs meant until I got to the moment when Carl tells Jody. I had been putting them in as a wild card. Then it hit me. So the play reveals itself very slowly. You don't know where it's going. Until of course the critics come and the first line of their review says, "Chairs equal dead people in Steven Dietz's new play."

In the play, Jody defines the "Greenland problem" as a term for the inevitable distortion of reality that occurs in the process of making two-dimensional maps represent three-dimensional reality.

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