There’s something about airport terminal waiting areas that makes them ripe with dramatic possibilities. A few years back, Departures provided the writer-actors at the NoHo Arts Center with over half a dozen waiting area vignettes, and earlier this year, Having It All’s female fivesome met cute and bonded while stranded waiting for postponed flights.  Now it’s former couple Reed and Elena who happen upon each other in a blizzard-bound Midwest airport twenty-five years post-love affair in Steven Dietz’s Shooting Star, getting its West Coast Premiere at Burbank’s Colony Theatre.

Elena (Michelle Duffy) remains the same hippy-dippy New Ager she was back in the late 1970s. Reed (Kevin Symons), however, has gone “Red State,” as his business suit and tie (the kind he swore never to wear) make perfectly clear to Elena when she catches sight of him in an otherwise empty waiting area.

Sans blizzard, Elena and Reed would be two ships passing in the night (sorry, make that two airplanes), she heading to Boston from her home in Austin, he traveling with precisely the opposite itinerary—and there would be no Shooting Star.

Fortunately for theatergoers, the worst storm of the still-new century has stranded them in transit, though it takes a while for the two to stop hiding from each other and face the fact that there’s no way for either to avoid this reunion.

Over the course of one long night (which Dietz dexterously compacts into ninety intermissionless minutes), Elena and Reed catch up, exchange memories, get on each other’s nerves, reveal truths, hide secrets, and keep us on the edge of our seats wondering, “Will they or won’t they?”

Though playwright Dietz may not be the household name that Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee are, a 2010 ranking of the top ten most produced playwrights in the U.S. had him tied in 8th place with those two legends despite not a single Broadway credit to his name—or at least not as of yet. Like Dietz’s enchanting Becky’s New Car, Shooting Star features just the kind of characters you might well be friends with in real life, though perhaps a tad more quirkily stageworthy. (Elena carries a “rain stick,” checks out people’s wallets to find out everything she needs to know about them, and makes her own trail mix out of M&Ms, gummy bears, and jelly beans.)

As in Becky’s New Car, Dietz’s characters have no problem breaking the fourth wall and involving us in their dilemmas. The playwright adroitly segueways from comedy to drama and back without ever revealing the seams. In a Dietz play, even seemingly inconsequential details like a birth certificate kept inside a wallet have their payoff.


Since its 2009 world premiere in Austin, where Dietz teaches playwriting and directing at the University of Texas at Austin, Shooting Star has had several well-reviewed regional productions, including a New York premiere starring Broadway’s Karen Ziemba and Gregg Edelman. The Colony’s, however, is the first to feature direction by David Rose and performances by Michelle Duffy and Kevin Symons—and that alone is reason enough to put it on your must-see list.

Rose is an actor’s director (as most actors-turned-directors are), making him an ideal choice to direct this character-centric play, and though there are only two actors onstage from start to finish, Rose keeps Shooting Star visually appealing, aided and abetted by Luke Moyer’s imaginative lighting design.

Like Ziemba and Edelman, Duffy and Symons are award-winning musical theater performers equally adept at non-musical plays, and Shooting Star gives the Ovation-winning star of Can-Can and No Way To Treat A Lady’s singing detective the perfect chance to strut their comedic-dramatic stuff.

It’s been far too long since Duffy, StageSceneLA’s 2007-8 Performer Of The Year and Scenie-winner five years in a row, has done a straight play. It’s been well worth the wait, however, the Williams-Shakespeare vet’s quicksilver work in Shooting Star keeping us riveted from lights up to curtain calls. As for her costar, it takes an actor of Symons’ charisma and depth to make an uptight red stater like Reed hold his own against a 40something flower child. Together, the two stars ignite sparks, their longtime offstage friendship doubtless aiding considerably in their onstage chemistry.

David Potts’ airline terminal set looks so authentic, you’d swear there should be actual planes outside ready for takeoff were it not for the snow which keeps on falling throughout the night. Cricket S. Myers’ tiptop sound design makes us believe that we’re indeed at the airport as “orange” level alerts and other assorted announcements play over the speaker system, a selection of ‘70s tunes enhancing Elena and Reed’s reminiscences. Costumes by Dianne K. Graebner are just what the playwright must have imagined while writing Shooting Star. Properties design and set dressing are MacAndME’s impeccable best. Leesa Freed is production stage manager.

An airport terminal may well be the last place any one of us would want to remain stranded from dusk to dawn, but in Steven Dietz’s Shooting Star, it’s a perfectly marvelous place to spend ninety minutes of laughter, nostalgic reminiscences, and a few eleventh hour tears. Following Year Zero and On Golden Pond, Shooting Star continues what may well be the Colony’s best season in years.

Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley
September 17, 2011
Photos: Michael Lamont

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