OnStage’s ‘Lonely Planet’ Chronicles Life During a Pandemic

Steven Dietz seemingly is always writing plays. He finds inspiration from a variety of sources, and his catalog includes more than fifty works, including Murder on the Links, which was given its world premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre recently.

The source for Mr. Dietz’s 1992 play, Lonely Planet, now playing at Chula Vista’s OnStage Playhouse, was Eugène Ionesco’s 1952 absurdist “tragic farce,” The Chairs. Mr. Dietz’s play adopted the absurdist style for his story of two gay men coping with the AIDS crisis.

It would be easy for Lonely Planet to descend into bathos, as did its source. Fortunately, director Teri Brown coached heartfelt performances from her cast.

James P. Darvas and Salomon Maya
Photos by Daren Scott

Jody (James P. Darvas) runs a nondescript map store on a quiet street. The store seems to survive despite discouraging customers by frequently having its “closed” sign displayed, even though the store is actually open. His friend, Carl (Salomon Maya), visits frequently, however. There are times when Jody seems annoyed with Carl, who is not always truthful, but on balance he’s glad when Carl arrives.

Carl has taken to helping to clean out homes of men affected by the pandemic. He brings chairs from those homes to Carl’s shop, and bit by bit the shop becomes cluttered with those chairs.

Eventually, Jody begins to realize both the extent of the pandemic and the extent that his maps distort the reality they are designed to portray.

Chairs proliferate

Both Jody and Carl are lonely, but Jody copes by isolating, and Carl copes by pretending that he is busy doing important things. They get on each other’s nerves more than a little, but one major thing that Ms. Brown has helped her actors to find is how they can portray their interdependence. Yes, there is a climax involving the chairs, but the humor of the performances contributes to its impact when it arrives. That and some of the play’s use of absurdist language are what make the Lonely Planet tick as well as it does.

The production looks simply designed but is more complex than it appears. I’m not quite sure about the company’s designation of “set design” and “scenic design” but Patrick Mason did the former and Duane McGregor did the latter. Brad Dubois designed the costumes, Kevin “Blax” Burroughs designed the lighting, and Estefania Ricalde designed the sound, which may have included gathering clips of rock and roll performances.

Lonely Planet helps audiences recall how to laugh while still appreciating the tragedy of the pandemic.


Runs through July 16. Performance schedule varies from week to week. Visit the OnStage website for schedule information and ticket purchases. The theatre is located in the heart of Chula Vista’s downtown district. Parking is free in the evenings but may be difficult to find. Allow extra time to park and walk to OnStage’s entrance.

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OnStage Playhouse
291 Third Avenue Chula Vista California 91910 P. O. Box 120044 Chula Vista CA 91912-0044 Work Phone: (619) 422-7787 Website: ticket ordering Website: OnStage Playhouse website
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