Backstage Review: ‘Exit, Pursued By A Bear’ at Restless Artist Theater

~By Norm Robins~

Make no mistake about it. This is a female revenge play. This genre is as old as Seneca and Euripides in ancient Rome and Greece. Think of the movies The Other Woman, 9 to 5, Fatal Attraction, The First Wives’ Club, Thelma and Louise, and the list goes on. Lauren Gunderson is probably the most widely performed living playwright in America today. She has authored roughly 20 plays in what is still a very young life. She wanted to write a play addressing domestic violence. But–and this is a big but–in writing this play should she do drama or comedy? Should she decry domestic violence or mock it? Here’s her answer:

But don’t make another mistake about it. If you are expecting a puff piece by Neil Simon full of gags but devoid of substance this isn’t it. Sure, this play is in the form of a comedy, but it is a serious play full of substance.

“Exit, Pursued By A Bear” is a treat for anyone involved in theater. The play is a play within a play, with many references to theatrical elements, bringing delight to the audience. Fast-paced with each scene short and to the point “Exit” runs just a bit over an hour but packs a dramatic punch. Adding to this is an excellent cast makes this a must-see Artown event.

Dana Nollsch

The story takes place in a cabin in the peaceful, beautiful mountains north of Atlanta, Georgia that anchor the southern end of the Great Smokey Mountains. Its tranquility is a counterpoint to our heroine’s tempestuous life. Nan Carter’s two-year marriage to Kyle has turned abusive. She decides to end the marriage and leave Kyle, but first she wants to teach him a lesson. She and two friends, Sweetheart, a stripper, and Simon, who is dressed like a university cheerleader, duct tape Kyle to a chair. They force him to watch recreated scenes from the marriage. Afterward they plan to leave him with a bottle of honey and deer meat packages packed around him. The packages are labeled “deer” because apparently the bears of the Georgia mountains can read. They plan to leave him there still taped to the chair and vulnerable.

Our long-suffering heroine Nan, Kyle’s wife, is played beautifully and thoughtfully by Sara Mackie. She creates a character crying out that she is a woman and a human being. She has hopes and feelings. She is not Kyle’s servant. She is not his punching bag. She wants a loving relationship the way it was in the beginning. She longs for it. She thought she had that when being courted by Kyle, but for him the flame of love has burned out and turned to ashes.

Kyle, her husband, a stereotypically insensitive male is played wonderfully by Kameron Watson. Kyle had humanity in the beginning of their relationship but quickly lost it when he settled into the normalcy of an ongoing marriage. Duct taped to a chair he cries out that he can and will recover what was lost, at least at those moments in the play where his mouth is not covered with duct tape. He’s not sincere. Only the imminent threat of being mauled by a bear makes him say it. Nan is past the point of no return anyhow.

Nan is supported in her venture by two great actors, Rachel Douglass as Sweetheart the stripper and aspiring actress and Cody Cannon as the effeminate Simon dressed in a cheerleaders costume complete with two pom-poms. Rachel is perfect for the part. There is a lot of woman in that woman. She is bumptious and brassy, but when she plays Kyle in a play within a play she is tough as nails. She is someone you don’t want to meet in a dark alley—too intimidating.

Cody pulls off Simon with panache and style. He is the scold in the play. He is the one who calls a spade a spade and not a left-handed right-handed pointed sharp-edged shovel. He is the author’s spokesman telling the truth without varnish or embellishment.

This is the second play in a row by Lauren Gunderson performed by Restless Artists Theater. The previous one was Silent Sky likewise addressing a woman’s issue, the less than equal status of women in society. What a pleasure Exit is to watch–a play with a serious message that also tickles your funny bone if you let it.

Go see this play. It is worth so much more than the price of admission.

CAST:

Kyle……………Kameron Watson

Nan…………….Sara Mackie

Sweetheart……Rachel Douglass

Simon………….Cody Canon

Directed by Dave Zybert

Exit will be performed at the Restless Artists Theater in Sparks July 5th through 21st. For more information including tickets go to: Reastless Artist Theater

Norm Robins

norm@renoarts.news

The Ending of the Play’s the Thing

Condensed from a column in the Wall St. Journal

By Lauren Gunderson

November 26, 2011

… Hamlet says “The play’s the thing,” as he prepares to stage a performance that might prick the conscience of the fratricidal King Claudius. I’d suggest instead that the ending of a play is the thing.

It’s not the only thing, of course: Compelling characters in urgent situations making big choices is rather necessary for good drama. But the last few minutes of any play can define a theater-going experience: Good plays can be rendered weak; mediocre plays can shock and awe.

Does a play’s final beat accomplish any more than a novel’s or a film’s? I think so. Plays are designed to be sensory experiences as much as literary ones. They are words crafted for delivery by live bodies in a shared physical space and time. Because the audience is in the same room with the story, great plays can be uniquely visceral.

Audiences also usually see productions just once—and they can’t rewind or adjust the experience. You ride the current of a production straight to the end. Thus it’s the playwright’s job (in tandem with the director) to deliver an ending that is a powerful experience, not just a final line or image.

Endings symbolize the whole journey. The final moment becomes a fractal of the larger play’s design—iterated many times over, the ending could give you the moral of the whole story.

… Aristotle’s demand[s]…a denouement in a drama—an ending that returns us to stasis, untying the knots of conflict and reminding us that the world continues.

In my own recent play, “Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” the final moment is given away by the title. A man is duct-taped to a chair in a mountain cabin and hears:

“(The sounds of paws, snorts, sniffs, a grunt, hard nails on the threshold… A bear. Blackout.)”

I know that seems a bit grim, but I promise it’s a comedy. The play is riddled with talk of incoming bears, and this ending allows what’s called the “inevitable surprise.” Some part of you knows that a bear is going to show up, but at the same time it couldn’t really happen, could it?

The meat of any play is its dramatic journey: complex and engaging characters in states of complication, taking risks and making urgent choices that lead to triumphs or tragedies. The ending is more than the last thing that we see before the curtain falls. It’s the final meaning, the consummation, the last held breath before the unscripted world courses back in.

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