At Jody's Maps the world is laid out for those who would try to travel it, or maybe just understand it, according to the individual concept of the mapmaker and the purpose of the presentation—different concepts, different maps. Thus in Mercator's world map, essentially a globe flattened out on paper, Greenland is monstrously distorted, larger than Africa, which is approximately 14 times its size. It's not incorrect, Jody says, it's all in the perspective.
The perspective Jody cites is not of the geographical world but of the psychological and emotional world his peer community faces. Finding a tenable version of a society devastated by AIDS is a task not casually undertaken. Jody (Randall Rapstine) chooses to stay out of the real world, holed up in his map shop, in a state of paralyzing agoraphobia, denying his fear but frozen by it. Carl (Abraham Higginbotham) hides in lies and a quicksilver wit, reinventing himself as an art restorer, a tabloid journalist, an auto glass repairman, a corporate plant waterer. Carl is a forever charming irritant in Jody's life, daily dropping off unmatched chairs that gradually fill the available space in the small shop, goading Jody to talk out his fears in paranoid dreams that find him in the spotlight and at risk, while Carl, somewhere in the crowd, bolsters his confidence.
Steven Dietz' 1992 play is a literate, often lyrical, eloquent poem to humanity and the need for friendship. What could have been coy, or pretentiously absurd, comes off as moving and full of humor, sometimes both at the same time. Rapstine and Higginbotham are well matched; the stolid, haunted Jody and the fickle-minded, seemingly psychotic Carl are characters created in Dietz' lonely planet as if for these two actors. They play together like stellar duettists on the same keyboard. There's a rare warmth here between these two, who are not lovers but end up as true friends, that extends beyond the stage. The other characters—the chairs, symbolic, it turns out, of friends who have perished in the plague—extend their own charisma.
Sue Hamilton's direction blends well with the playwright's profound simplicity, making this a fine entertainment and an emotional tribute to the lost owners of the empty chairs and to those who must somehow try to fill them—an AIDS play that never uses the A-word.
"Lonely Planet," presented by and at the Gay & Lesbian Center's Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, L.A. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 7 p.m. Jan. 18-Feb. 24. $20. (323) 860-7300.