“Why did I stay with him? I’m broke. I’m stuck. I’m scared!” -Nan Carter
#130. Theatre Seven of Chicago presents the Chicago premiere of EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR. Nan is abused by her husband. She is finally leaving him. Her departure strategy includes a stripper, a cheerleader and a bear. Before she goes, Nan wants Kyle to understand what he did. So, her friends help reenact scenes of wedded dis. EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR is a witty and cautionary tale on domestic violence.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson takes a hilarious approach to making a serious point. She creates zany caricatures and gives them dialogue that cackles with absurdity. Breaking the fourth wall, the characters plead their case to the audience. Even though the parody is laughable, the serious nature of domestic violence is never the focus of a joke. In an unforgettable moment of clarity, Ryan Lanning (Simon) provokes Tracey Kaplan (Nan) to reveal more abuse incidents. Kaplan responds, “Is there a quota?” The statement is simplistically profound. Gunderson doesn’t escalate the plot into a lampoon Lifetime movie. She keeps the ultimate point understated and powerful.
Under the tight direction of Cassy Sanders, this cast plays it up. Ryan Lanning (Simon) goes over-the-top fabulous. Even putting his pom poms aside, Lanning still zings all his lines with stereotyped gaiety. Hysterical! Elizabeth Hope Williams (Sweetheart) brings her own comedy as the stripper-would-be-actress. Williams delights with her zestful approach to settling this domestic dispute. A charming Ryan Hallahan (Kyle) adds to the dilemma. Because Hallahan is so amicable, the audience could be swayed onto his side. But from lights up, Tracy Kaplan (Nan) captures the audience’s loyalty. Her performance is so heartfelt that we almost endorse her bemusing scheme. Kaplan plays it with the perfect blend of spunk and hesitation. And their marriage unravels in a house decorated perfectly in red neck meets white trash. Scenic Designer John Wilson and Props Designer Thea Wigglesworth create and clutter this countrified domestic disturbance.
EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR will probably be met with controversy. People might think the subject matter was handled to light-hearted. I believe Theatre Seven met the challenge of portraying a spousal abuse satire with caring respect. For me, the only speed bump is the endingS. Kaplan exits after a poignant interaction with Hallahan. Blackout. Appla— nope! After a clunky moment, lights come up on an epilogue moment. It’s cute but waters down the first ending. And then it happens again. It reminds me of “Wayne’s World” going with the ‘mega-happy ending.’
Still… EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR cleverly entertains from title to ending, the first one.
Running Time: Seventy-five minutes with no intermission
Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln
Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Cassy Sanders
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:30pm
Thru July 15th
Buy Tickets at www.theatreseven.org