The Galvin Fine Arts Center's 2017-18 season opened with Steven Dietz's play Lonely Planet, presented in the Studio Theater and directed by SAU senior Brian Leibforth.
In this comedy, Dietz explores the story of two gay friends, Carl and Jody, who are struggling with the 1980s AIDS epidemic. Both have dramatically different views on the crisis around them. Jody, played by SAU sophomore T.J. Green, sees the epidemic - and the outside world in general - as so overwhelming and invasive that he refuses to leave his map store for months.
Carl, played by Max Moline '17 deals with the direct effects of the epidemic through helping to clear the houses of the people in their community who have died from AIDS. "Haunted and silenced" by the headlines in the papers and the events around him, Carl begins bringing Jody the chairs of their friends who have died, reminding him that the epidemic will not go away by simply ignoring it.
The main theme of the show - ignoring something does not make it disappear - is one that is shockingly relevant today, despite the almost 40-year gap between the play's time period and today's. In the news, current events like the AIDS epidemic facing the LGBTQ+ community and problems like political unrest, discrimination, environmental catastrophes, and more are being ignored as the sheer amount of problems pile up. While it can be easy to become desensitized and overwhelmed by numerous, far-reaching crises, it is far more difficult to ignore the personal, honest story of two individuals. Leibforth used this fact to his full advantage to convey his theme.
This isn't the first time Leibforth has tackled this topic. As a junior, he directed the one-act play Eleven Fifty-Six, another play about ignoring a coming crisis and the disastrous effects of the characters' disregard. This time around, without the more fantastical elements of Eleven Fifty-Six, Leibforth brought out the personal and sobering sides of this issue.
Even more striking was the addition of The Project of the Quad Cities. A representative from the social services organization attended each performance, raising awareness about the problem of HIV/STI in the Quad Cities area and giving each audience member information about free testing and other services they offer. Like Carl, the representatives reminded the audience that they can't just ignore the HIV/STI/AIDS epidemic because it is also here, not just in the "big cities."
Though the Project of the Quad Cities helped to bring the theme closer to home, it was the design team and the actors' authentic and emotional portrayal that made people really sit up and pay attention. The design team brought their best work to the play: the sentiment of the 80s music, the shifting colors in the costumes, the dreamlike blue and gold lights, a dizzying array of maps and other props, and a cluttered map store set brought authenticity and life into the show.
The actors rose to the challenge of telling the story with only two characters. Playing a compelling Jody, T.J. Green combined his typical hilarity with a more thoughtful side, especially while talking about the different types of maps and their deeper meaning. Max Moline's never-ending antics, enthusiasm, and expert handling of drastic mood changes brought Carl - a man with "the energy of eight and the patience of none" - to life. Both had the audience shaking with laughter (especially with an unlikely map duel and a certain Mounds bar consumption) and sitting in stunned silence as the final chair was revealed.
As the actors took their final bows and the lights came back up again, there seemed to be a greater connection between the audience members at the sold-out show. The emotion in the air was high; people talked pensively to each other, hugged their friends, and laughed. Perhaps they were struck by another but no less important message of the show: make the most of the time we have with the people we love.