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Theater review: TWTP’s ‘Shooting Star’ a Sweet Grown-Up Pleasure

Shooting Star 1Tennessee Women’s Theater Project offers Nashville a rare opportunity this month – see a sweet, smart show for grown-ups starring two actors who haven’t been onstage together in quite some time.

The production of Steven Dietz’ Shooting Star now occupying the Looby Theater stage is a pleasure: a well-produced play in every aspect that brings some laughs and sighs while one savors the work of two performers whose artistic gifts are as powerful as ever.

Shooting Star 2Dietz may have been born elsewhere and he doesn’t reside in Nashville, but it’s still possible to claim the prolific and popular playwright as a second son. His shows are regularly produced here (Nashville Children’s Theatre finished a run of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure on Sunday, and there have been recent productions of such Dietz creations as Becky’s New Car and Yankee Tavern by other groups) but more relevantly his recent stint as an Ingram New Works Fellow at Tennessee Repertory Theatre forged closer ties between this masterful writer and our theater community.

Shooting Star (think of the Bob Dylan song with that title) clearly demonstrates his penchant for sharp dialogue and a strong dose of compassion for the flawed creatures we all are. It’s set in the terminal of a large Middle-America airport in 2006: We meet Elena Carson (Mary Tanner Bailey), who’s never entirely let go of the hippie hue she developed in college during the 1970s, and Reed McAllister (Brandon Boyd), who outwardly has assumed the mantle of conventional fortysomething business and family man (though he’s got J.J. Cale’s “Magnolia” downloaded to his laptop, so apparently his veneer isn’t the whole story).

Shooting Star 3A snowstorm has trapped the two former lovers at the terminal; the forced reunion that follows is quite awkward at first. As conditions worsen outside, though, they improve indoors. It’s time to rekindle and reveal, but just where will all that lead?

Program notes indicate that it’s been six years since Bailey performed in a play like this one; she’s been part of the amazing Wishing Chair Productions puppetry company at Nashville Public Library full-time since 2006. Boyd hasn’t trod the boards in five years; he’s producer and host of the Cosmic Punk Fergus Radio Free Shakedown on 107.1 FM. Before that, however, the two had been in 11 productions together, so it’s not surprising they have a terrific onstage chemistry.

Shooting Star 4They both still have the ability to fully inhabit characters, too, down to their exquisite timing, sharp delivery and focus on each moment. Is there anything better (theatrically speaking) than watching two gifted vets play off each other in a well-written play? I can’t think of anything.

And director Maryanna Clarke has made sure all supporting elements are first class. Brittany Carlton’s set, complete with gate sign and story-progressing digital clock, gives us the look and feel of an airport waiting area while still being theatrically engaging; Tory Adcock’s lights, Chris Clarke’s sound and Susan Jakoblew’s costumes perfectly frame the setting and characters.

Shooting Star 5The cherries on top of the cake are the lovely piano interludes composed and played by Nashville’s Ashley Mintz. There’s a melodic wistfulness to her music that fits the have-beens, are-nows and what-ifs of this play’s decidedly middle-age ruminations on life.

Make sure you book tickets for Shooting Star before it departs. It’s a rare privilege to see Bailey and Boyd, and with Dietz’ writing and the excellent TWTP production elements that support them it’s also a complete pleasure.

Shooting Star 6Shooting Star runs through Oct. 21 at the Looby Theater (2301 Rosa L Parks Blvd.). Performances start 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 11, 12, 13, 18, 19 and 20; 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 14 and 21; and 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 9 and 16 (the first morning matinee is an Actors-Pay-What-You-Can show).The Oct. 11 and 18 shows are $10 Thursdays; the Oct. 11 presentation is also a “Pay-What-You-Make-an-Hour Night.” For tickets or more info call (615) 681-7220 or visit www.twtp.org.

 

*Photos by Maryanna Clarke courtesy Tennessee Women’s Theater Project.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for ArtNowNashville.com from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (www.americantheatrecritics.org).