We’ve all done it: You’re minding your own business, walking down the street, and then you see that person from your past — ex-lover, former best friend, old neighbor who hated you — whom you’d do anything to avoid. And because you’re free, just walking down the street, you can brush right past, pretending not to see, avoiding the terrifying prospect of having to dredge up all those old memories.
The characters of Shooting Star, onstage at the Boulevard Theatre, don’t have that luxury. They’re two former college sweethearts, decades past their messy breakup, and they’re trapped together in a small airport bar by a cruel, inconvenient snowstorm that’s grounded their respective flights home. And so they’re forced to dredge up those old memories — possibly, as it turns out, for the better.
David Oswald is directing actors Anita Domnitz and Jaime Jastrab in this show, a memory play both in subject and structure. Both characters, when not speaking to each other about their lives then and now, interact freely with the audience, providing context and details about their former selves. Those selves, once idealistic students at the UW-Madison, are much different than present-day Elena and Reed, an unmarried, still-counter-cultural phone bank employee and a now-conservative businessman with a family, respectively. It’s a distinction not lost on the two. “The realities of life hit them hard,” Oswald says.
Elena and Reed haven’t seen each other since breaking up 20-odd years prior, and their re-encounter runs the gamut of emotions, from laughter to pathos. It’s a combination that could be tough to balance, but Oswald says writer Steven Dietz does so easily. “I’ve had that experience, and it’s right,” he says. “There’s a question of whether you can go back.” Oswald says Dietz also handles the plot well, keeping it honest while throwing in a few twists and turns to keep things interesting.
With only two characters to carry the story, it’s more important than usual for Domnitz and Jastrab to both have a strong bond onstage and to make the audience feel invested in their story, Oswald says. “The audience needs to be engaged in this relationship,” he says, adding that he’s asked the actors to make eye contact with people directly during monologues instead of just staring into space. It’s that fourth-wall-breaking connection, he says, that’ll make or break the show.
Many shows produced at the Boulevard feature minimalist sets more out of necessity than purpose, but Oswald says this isn’t one of them. Keeping the staging reduced to a neutral set — a few benches to stand in for airport seats — is just one more way of keeping the focus on the relation- ship. (The play) is about these two people,” he says, “and we don’t need anything to distract from that.”
Oswald admits the play is designed to appeal slightly more to audience members in the same mid-life stage as Elena and Reed, but certainly doesn’t think only they will find it interesting. Shooting Star might not be the most traditional love story, he says, but it’s the sort of play any romantic should be able to fall in love with.
Shooting Star runs at the Boulevard Theatre Feb. 5-16, with performances at 7:30 p.m. weeknights, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at boulevardtheatre.com.