Theater review by Sandy MacDonald
Into the fearfully well-ordered life of map seller Jody (Arnie Burton) blows his old friend Carl (Matt McGrath), a fantastical fellow with a penchant for shifting personae. We first see him in the guise of a Continental boulevardier—off-shoulder overcoat, silk scarf, the works—and that’s just one of the identities he playfully assumes. Carl also serves as a kind of furniture fairy: Over the course of Steven Dietz’s amusing, elegiac Lonely Planet, he sneaks more and more chairs (of every imaginable style and condition) into Jody’s shop, insisting that they be accorded places of honor.
There’s method to Carl’s madcap behavior: The chairs are meaningful relics, and their import sneaks up on you to devastating effect. Lonely Planet debuted in 1994, at the height of the AIDS crisis; its depiction of the plague years still hits hard. And it’s hard to imagine a better cast than the stars of this revival, directed by Jonathan Silverstein for Keen Company. As the two characters spar with each other, mostly through inspired put-downs and bon mots, McGrath expertly parries Burton’s superlative sardonic takes. They duel as though their lives depended on it—which they ultimately might.
Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row (Off Broadway). By Steven Dietz. Directed by Jonathan Silverstein. With Arnie Burton, Matt McGrath. Running time: 1hr 40mins. One intermission. Through Nov 18.