Steven Dietz is one popular guy, and for good reason. The Denver-born playwright has the rare distinction of two of his plays, Rocket Man and Private Eyes, having been produced this season at Boise's Stage Coach Theatre. Last November, Boise Contemporary Theater (BCT) vividly brought his adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula to life. And sharp theatergoers may recall BCT scored a few years back with yet another Dietz-penned work: the wonderfully produced Lonely Planet.
There's a simple explanation behind the proliferation of Dietz's work in the Valley, the man is a damned good storyteller. He possesses the rare gift of making his characters real while using a comforting mix of humor and drama to tell their compelling tales.
Thankfully for us, Rocket Man continues Dietz's legacy. Stage Coach director Jeremy Chase uses the story of a middle-aged man at a crossroads in his life on a fine quintet of performers, to transport us to a world that resembles our own, for better or worse.
In Rocket Man, we drop in on Donny (Michael Cronen), a relatively ordinary guy in his mid-40s who seems a little depressed. Well, OK, maybe he's more than a little depressed and maybe he's not quite so ordinary. In his first stage appearance, Donny holds up a sign to the audience that reads: "Here's my life-Make an offer." Shortly afterwards, he's disassembling the electronic crossing guard device he apparently stole from a street corner.
We learn quickly that Donny is having a yard sale. Nothing odd in that, more or less, until we discover he's selling everything he owns ... and have I mentioned that he's living in his attic?
The setting may seem claustrophobic if not for the folks who stream in and out of the attic to check up on Donny. Among them are his teenage daughter, Trisha (Katie Preston), wife Rita (Becky Jaynes), good friend and aspiring clergyman Louise (Nova Perry, fresh from Boise Little Theater's recent Grapes of Wrath) and best bud Buck (Rick Hunt).
Hunt has a ball with Buck, the well-meaning widower short a fuse or two who wants to help Donny, but the poor guy could use a little counseling himself. That becomes blatantly obvious near the end of the first act when Buck reveals, quite seriously, that God told him to build an ark.
What is not completely believable at first, is Jaynes' and Preston's mother and daughter dynamic as in reality they're only a decade or so apart, but the illusion believably solidifies as the play progresses due to solid performances from both actresses. Jaynes, in particular, is quite moving as the wife who has all but given up trying to ignite her husband's dimming soul.
The show really belongs to Cronen, a truly gifted performer who knows just what to do with expertly written material. His Donny is a man who has seemingly lost faith and cannot go on anymore. But he can still dream ... and without giving too much away, act two of Rocket Man delightfully transports Donny to a new world of second chances.
By Steven Dietz
Directed by Jeremy Chase
Stage Coach Theatre, Hillcrest Shopping Center, Overland and Orchard
More info/tickets: 342-2000, www.stagecoachtheatre.com.