Produced by: City Lights Theater Company
Featuring: Sara Renée Morris (Nan), Max Sorg (Kyle), Laura Espino (Sweetheart), and Jacob Marker (Simon)
Directed by: Steve M. Boyle
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
When: May 14-June 14, 2015
Where: City Lights Theater Company, 529 South Second Street, San Jose, California
Tickets: $17-$32 (discounts available). Visit cltc.org or call 408-295-4200.
well-staged at City Lights
For a revenge comedy, with plenty of over-the-top humor, "Exit, Pursued By A Bear," on stage in an excellent production at City Lights Theater Company in San Jose, leaves a lot of room for doubt and reflection.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson's play, which premiered in 2011, opens with a Georgia redneck duct-taped to a chair, while his wife and her friend Sweetheart, a stripper who wanted to play the title role in "Hamlet," explain to him that he's been an abusive husband, and they plan to feed him to a bear.
But early on, we don't really see evidence of behavior that would deserve death by mauling.
Sure, he's rude, foul-mouthed, drunk and stupid, and he killed Bambi, but is that enough for a death sentence?
Gunderson lets the evidence, good and bad, unfold slowly. We get to see him in flashbacks, clumsily sweet-talking and attempting to romance the woman who would become his wife. There is reason to doubt the intelligence of both of them. He can barely form a sentence, but she falls for him anyway.
But as the play proceeds, we hear about her bruises, about the time he split her lip and she locked herself in a bathroom. Then the question becomes, why did she stay?
Well, being poor and without resources will do that to you.
And Gunderson's play, while still a very funny comedy, has the bitter ring of the truth about the circumstances many abused spouses suffer.
And what a great cast for this show!
Sara Renée Morris is subtle yet strong as Nan, the abused wife. She is confused by her situation; she loves all animals and works with them during the day, and comes home to her drunken, self-pitying slob of a husband, who tries to make her butcher a deer he killed. She loves him, but must escape his hold. She puts all that confusion in her face; a fine job.
Max Sorg is excellent as Kyle, the abusive husband, who believes everything he's done is just the way men are supposed to behave. His flashback scenes, when he's romancing Nan, are very impressive.
Laura Espino is brilliant as Sweetheart, the stripper with aspirations, who is there to help Nan act out some scenes from the bad marriage. Her line-readings are theater in themselves, and completely hilarious. And she puts some cute wiggles in her walk when she says the phrase "Back it up!"
Jacob Marker is brilliant as Nan's gay best friend, Simon, who shows up when Nan is having some doubts about her plan, to cheer her on. To better encourage her, he wears a woman's cheerleading uniform. He gets some of the funniest and wisest lines, and delivers them with lots of swishy panache.
Kyle, when allowed to talk, at first is nasty to Nan, Sweetheart and Simon, and makes all kinds of profane threats. Later, when he realizes he is in real trouble, he tries to sweet-talk Nan. When he starts to sing The Beatles' "We Can Work It Out," the duct tape goes over his mouth again.
He tries to bargain: If Nan will let him go, he swears, "No more guns! No more drinking! No Fox News!"
But, as Simon says, "Marriage is supposed to be manageably annoying," not what Kyle has made it for the bruised and abused Nan.
Director Steve M. Boyle has this cast and show ticking like a fine Swiss watch. My only suggestion would be to show a bruise on Nan's face early on. There's still plenty of room left for subtlety.
The set, by City Lights production manager and technical director Ron Gasparetti, with properties design by Miranda Whipple, is pure lower-class Georgia, with a seedy recliner near a small TV and a cramped little kitchen crowded with clutter. Nick Kumamoto did a fine job with lighting design, and also did the projection design, which mostly worked. There was one projection bit, with Marker holding a fold-out screen on which images were projected, that had some blurry focus trouble. Music and sound design by George Psarras were very good. Costume design by Anna Chase added several levels of pathos and humor to the show.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org