In 1996, I directed a production of Steven Dietz’ Lonely Planet for InterAct Theatre Company, an organization I founded in Philadelphia, and for which I have served as Artistic Director for 23 years now. Lonely Planet is a charming, funny and ultimately moving play about two gay friends: Carl, a flamboyant man with an unusually vivid imagination and multiple, ever-changing occupations; and Jody, a cautious and thoughtful man who has insulated himself in the map store he owns, afraid to venture out in the world and get tested for AIDS. As the play evolves, Carl shows up in the store time and again toting increasing numbers of chairs, and delivering outrageous yarns, both of which irritate Jody. That is, until we (and Jody) learn that the chairs belong to friends of Carl’s (and Jody’s) who have died of AIDS, and Carl is trying to memorialize them in some meaningful way. As the map store steadily fills with chairs, Carl gets Jody to finally confront his fears and get tested. He learns that he is HIV-negative. But in the final scene, Jody finds Carl’s favorite chair sitting in the store.
Lonely Planet was an incredibly important experience for me for many reasons. The actor who played Carl is my favorite actor in Philadelphia, and someone who I’ve worked with many times; one of the great human beings I have known in my life. He is gay himself and his older brother, also gay, had died of AIDS just a few months before we started rehearsals. Needless to say, the production suddenly became personal for all of us.
We decided to reach out to the community in a unique way. We invited people to donate chairs to the show; chairs that belonged to loved ones who had died of AIDS. The response was overwhelming. We received 40 to 50 donations of every kind of chair imaginable — kitchen chairs, armchairs, dining room chairs, porch chairs, church seats, love seats, ladderbacks, even a toddler’s high chair. The donors were invited to come see the show and experience their loved ones’ chairs on stage in a living memorial.
Learn more about playwright Steven Dietz.
Read a review of this production of Lonely Planet.
Learn more about the impact of HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia.
Learn more about how some members of the theater community are working to raise HIV/AIDS awareness and funds for treatment and services through their creative work by checking out Broadway Cares / Equity Fights AIDS.
Seth Rozin co-founded InterAct Theater Company in 1988 and has directed over 35 productions for the theater in addition to serving as the organization’s Producing Artistic Director. As a playwright, Seth is the recipient of two fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and his first two produced plays - MEN OF STONE and MISSING LINK -- garnered Barrymore Award nominations for Outstanding New Play in 2001 and 2002, respectively. Seth has also directed productions and served on boards, funding and award panels around the country.