Paws for thought
Review by Lefty Lucy
The heartbreaking thing about live theater is that when it's good, and it ends – that’s it. It’s done.
You can't watch it over, and over, and over again, pausing to take in the all luscious visuals and cleverly placed props. The theater, well, “it flares up, burns hot, and then it’s gone…”. So you try to take in every detail you possibly can – every shovel, every pruning shear, every machete (every rifle – literal and figurative – hanging on the wall), but, inevitably, you get swept up in the story, the characters, the comedy! And you're left only remembering a vibrant shadow of the incredible artistry that delighted, shook, and comforted you for 80 minutes. Or at least, that’s what it’s like for me; Not 10 minutes into the Radical Buffoons production of Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and already I regret that this will be my one and only opportunity to see this outstanding production.
House opens, and our eager audience floods into a transformed black box theater that truly looks like they’ve ripped the wall off of a hunting shed, with our seats set up specifically to allow a peek inside. There’s almost a Pee-Wee’s Playhouse vibe, if the Playhouse was a murder den in the woods. The set is a cornucopia of scenery, complete with deer mount, busted up lawn mower, in-progress window frame leaning against a worktable, a chair connected to a chain, and much, much, much more.
Props to Lindsay Rowinski, Marissa Botelho, & Jean Trachek for their spectacular scenic and prop details - you could have left me with the lights on alone in the space overnight and I still don’t think I would have been able to notice every perfectly-placed piece. Of course, it was impossible to take everything in before the lights dimmed and the show began (but I know because I lingered after and took a billion pictures).
I went into this play completely unfamiliar with it, beyond the title. I wish I could tell you what happens, linearly, from scene to scene, but I’m afraid my memory doesn’t work that way. What I can tell you is this:
The play opens on Independence day: spotlight on Nan (embodied by the fantastic Natalie Boyd), a modern (and dissatisfied) housewife and animal lover, who has decided she’s leaving her husband…out, for the local bears to eat.
She’s had enough, and she’s duct taped dear Kyle – that’s the husband (played sincerely by Jon Greene) – to a chair, chained the chair to a rig in the ceiling, covered him (and the driveway) in honey, and has begun thawing the pounds upon pounds of deer carcass that Kyle’s been shooting and freezing (with no end in sight) so that it might tempt some hungry bears, and solve all of Nan’s problems.
We learn through a series of reenactments performed by Nan, her stripper pal Sweetheart (portrayed by a perfectfully deranged Angie Z), and childhood best friend Simon (brought to full technicolor life by the truly transcendent Mint Blair), that Nan’s husband Kyle has become red-flag city, the final straws being endless name calling and physical abuse.
The specific story of abused-wife-has-enough is almost (sadly) cliche at this point – Nan even mentions Thelma and Louise, emphasizing a trope that has been around for well over 30 years by now. But Lauren Gunderson’s masterful use of comedic and theatrical structure, combined with the choices of directors Torey Hayward and Tenaj Jackson supported by their incredible cast (all born to play their parts), takes this topic from ordinary to revolutionary. This quick-witted and deeply personal play takes a microscopic look into the complicated layers of an abusive relationship, and leaves you asking…
Who’s the bear?
Now, I could talk to you about how Nan likes to quote Jimmy Carter, a lot, and somehow it’s hilarious. Or how impressed I was by the choice and execution of Kyle’s first monologue – enunciated, somehow, completely clearly despite having a red ball gag tied firmly in his mouth. Or, I could gush about how the sound, lighting, and costume design (provided by Amara Skinner, Stephen Thurber, and Aya Designs) are so spot-on and mingled so seamlessly, I barely have any distinct notes or memory – though I did occasionally wonder if some of the sounds were curated design, or simply NOLA noises, wisely folded in by Amara Skinner.
All of the design elements work together to allow the audience to get lost in this world that walks the line between realism and fantasy (my notes at one point read simply, “that is some fine looking meat!”). Theater!
I could also tell you how, after I googled it, I learned that this show is an homage of sorts to Shakespeare’s play the Winter’s Tale, which includes the stage direction, “Exit, pursued by a bear.” But honestly? All I know about that play is that it goes completely off the rails, in part because there’s a bear in it. This play shares a bear, but here she only goes off the rails on her way to greener pastures… or woods…or a city. I’m no Shakespeare, but you get the metaphor.
So, whether you are a theater nerd or just enjoy good storytelling, there are even more depths for you to mine in this fantastic production. Don’t miss your chance to see this comedic and Radical show.
Exit, Persued By A Bear runs on 4/6 , 4/7 @ 8pm (doors at 730…ish) at the Fortress of Lushington
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