The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Barry Pineo, March 20, 2009, Arts

Shooting Stars

Zach Theatre Whisenhunt Arena Stage, through April 5

Running time: 1 hr, 20 min

We humans love stories. We live our lives around them. I think we couldn't live without them. And every once in a while, if you're lucky, you see a story that stands out from all the others

– maybe because you're in a certain time and place in your life, or maybe because of the way it's told, or maybe because the people telling it are just the perfect ones to tell it or are just plain damn good. For me, Zach Theatre's world premiere Equity production of Steven Dietz's romantic comedy Shooting Star is one of those stories.

Dietz's script isn't anything earth-shattering. Elena Carson and Reed McAllister get caught in a blizzard at some unnamed airport between Austin and Boston. Reed's going south to close a contract, and Elena's heading north to visit a friend. A couple of decades ago, in the Seventies – an era ripe for comedy if ever there were one – Elena and Reed were soulmates ready to map out a life together ... until, of course, they somehow lost each other, and neither spoke to the other again. During the ensuing decades, Elena has stayed pretty much the same: a granola liberal dressed in paisley and carrying a rain stick. Reed, on the other hand, has morphed into a conservative suit who, when confronted with the former love of his life, has to think twice before speaking to her. As the two feel each other out, sparks predictably fly, and the past threatens to become palpably present – in other words, exactly what you would expect from a romantic comedy.

And as I said, nothing earth-shattering. But a story doesn't have to be earth-shattering to hold our attention. It has to be told well, and in this the production excels. Dietz directs his own script but not in the self-conscious, gotta-keep-'em-moving manner of so many directors staging a show in the round. His actors move easily and appropriately around Zach's Whisenhunt Stage with not a movement wasted. The same can be said of set designer Michael Raiford's airport waiting area, Jason Amato's lights, Craig Brock's sound, and Blair Hurry's costumes: no flair, nothing fancy, nothing extra – exactly what's needed to support those actors.

Because that's what the show is really about: the two actors and what happens between them. If Dietz didn't write this play for Barbara Chisholm and Jamie Goodwin, I can't imagine who he might have written it for. Chisholm and Goodwin so naturally and totally inhabit their roles, they manage to cross that magical line where storytelling becomes as compelling as life. Anyone who knows me will tell you I love laughter, but my favorite sound in a theatre is silence. Little in my experience compares to a room full of dozens of people becoming so enrapt that no one moves. Chisholm and Goodwin get plenty of laughs from Dietz's humorous tale, but at every important moment, every emotional high, every startling revelation, they get complete and utter silence. You believe them, their caring, their love, their pain, but most of all, you believe they were once great friends – and could be again, if the stars align.

Stories told this well don't come around very often. See it if you can.

Full disclosure: Barbara Chisholm is a longtime contributor to the Chronicle and is married to Arts Editor Robert Faires.

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