8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; 5:30 p.m. Sundays. $20-$25. Pay as you can show today, $5 minimum. Also 3 p.m. Saturday and Feb. 27. Through March 14. Horizon Theatre, 1083 Austin Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-584-7450, www.horizontheatre.com.
By Wendell Brock
They parted ways after a stormy relationship and came together again during a blizzard. Such is the story of Steven Dietz’s “Shooting Star,” a romantic comedy about a pair of long-parted lovers who find themselves stranded at an airport in the so-called snowstorm of the century.
Warily at first, then with the energy of a speeding jet, Reed and Elena enjoy a flickering encounter that allows them to reconsider the past, unbury their secrets and sort through the accumulated debris of their real and metaphorical baggage in this featherweight play at Horizon Theatre.
Directed by Jeff Adler and starring Jim Hammond and Leigh Campbell-Taylor as the snowbound former love birds, “Shooting Star” opened, coincidentally, at the moment a blanket of fluffy white powder covered Atlanta on Friday and in the wake of an East Coast “snow-mageddon” that grounded travelers and even shut down the federal government.
All irony of timing aside, “Shooting Star” is a breezy 90 minutes of playful comedy that revels in the dissimilar politics and personalities of its shaggy New Age heroine and her starched and conservative ex-boyfriend. Alternating between short monologues told in flashback form and extended moments where the old lovers reminisce about their time together as ’70s college students, the play derives its structure from the patter of airport announcements, the near-takeoffs of planes, and the characters’ bouts of hunger and napping.
Like an “Up in the Air” that remains stuck on the ground, the play never goes anywhere much; and after so much froth, its sudden attempt to offer meaningful reflections on the pair’s failure as parents feels like luggage that’s tossed on board in a panicked, last-minute ploy to shore up the weak narrative girding. Elena’s 11th-hour confessional, made during a telephone conversation with Reed’s daughter, sends the action into a nose-dive that pre-empts a gentle landing. It’s so awkward and phony that you won’t believe a word of it.
But the story’s unevenness never detracts from the delightful Carol Burnett-style daffiness of Campbell-Taylor’s Elena or the steady calm and subtle charm of Hammond’s Reed, who will eventually reveal a few cracks under his assured demeanor. Elena is the kind of woman who espouses the value of NPR but never contributes a dime, meditates flamboyantly in the airport and mixes her own trail mix in a discarded McDonald’s bag, only to tell us that she ate the burger and fries, too. A woman with a boring telephone-survey job who pictures herself as an exotic conquest, Elena is sure to have some holes in her carefully constructed image.
Design-wise, the work of Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay (who create both sets and costumes) is splashed with telling details. They turn Horizon’s intimate stage into an airport waiting area of remarkable verisimilitude — you know that carpet! — while Elena’s costumes — oceans of tie-dye and Asian-inspired pajamas and robe — speak volumes about her zany sense of self.
Horizon’s 26th season opener, “Shooting Star” is a likable enough way to spend an evening. Just don’t expect a deeply affecting emotional experience. Big on charm and short on insight, it has all the staying power of snow.