Sparks of romance, regret in ‘Shooting Star’
PROVIDENCE - During the sixth season of “The Sopranos,’’ when two of Tony Soprano’s underlings went on and on about the old days, Tony finally shut them up with one of his end-of-story, snarling pronouncements: “ ‘Remember when?’ is the lowest form of conversation.’’
Maybe so, but who can resist it? Who can refrain from occasionally wallowing in the past, even, or maybe especially, if it involves side trips down the Rue de Regret?
Certainly not the two middle-aged protagonists of Steven Dietz’s poignant and lyrical, if sometimes superficial, “Shooting Star.’’ What these onetime lovers learn during their own version of “Remember when?’’ is that what they remember may only be a small piece of the truth. That leaves them to grapple with the consequences of roads not taken, and to contemplate the possibilities of roads that still might be open to them.
When Reed McAllister and Elena Carson bump into each other by chance at a snowed-in regional airport somewhere in the Midwest, it has been 25 years since their romance ended. Now in their late 40s, Reed and Elena (superbly played by real-life married couple Kurt Rhoads and Nance Williamson) could scarcely be more different, at least on the surface.
With her yoga mat, rain stick, multicolored skirt, knee-high boots, and caustic wit, Elena projects a picture of carefree funkiness. It takes a while before she divulges what she does for a living. Let’s just say it doesn’t quite fit the picture. A resident of Austin, Texas, she tells Reed she is en route to Boston for a New Age “cleansing ceremony’’ for a friend. The clenched and harried Reed looks like he could use a good cleansing.
With his home life a mess (he lives in Boston, as it happens) and his status at work very shaky, Reed is anxious to complete his business trip, even though he knows he has no chance to land the account that is the object of his exertions. Here is how he bleakly summarizes his situation: “My job on the line, trying to catch a connecting flight that will rush me to a place I don’t want or need to be.’’ But the planes are grounded by a snowstorm, and it will be morning before either of them is able to go anywhere. This long night’s journey into day leaves them plenty of time to explore the what-ifs of their relationship.
In “Return of the Secaucus Seven’’ and “The Big Chill,’’ reunited veterans of the ’60s measured their contemporary selves against their youthful selves, and were dismayed by how their political and social ideals had slipped away, almost without them noticing.
The chance reunion in “Shooting Star’’ does yield some predictable back-and-forth about politics - Elena needles Reed about turning into the Republican-voting, Wall Street Journal-reading businessman he had vowed never to become - but the play is at its most absorbing when the pair peel back the layers of their relationship, then and possibly now. Turns out they kept some secrets from each other 25 years ago, and they may be holding back on a crucial detail or two about the present, too.
Williamson and Rhoads deliver performances of complementary subtlety and feeling. Whether engaging in a wary game of verbal fencing or baring their souls, they are wholly believable. This helps “Shooting Star’’ get past the playwright’s weakness for brand names as cultural shorthand - NPR, Neil Young, etc. - and his occasional forays into the realm of cliché, especially in his retrospective depiction of the late 1970s. Rod McKuen? “Jonathan Livingston Seagull’’? “Love Story’’? Sounds a lot more like the early ’70s to me, and even then, only in the most vapid circles. And would a character as hip as Elena really still be listening to “The Best of Bread’’?
But “Shooting Star’’ gathers a quiet emotional power as it becomes clearer that Elena and Reed view each other as the one that got away - and try to figure out what to do about it. The answer is not obvious. Life is complicated and, as Reed says at the beginning of “Shooting Star,’’ “Do you really want to keep bumping into the people that you are done with?’’
Not really. But are we ever really done with them?
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.