Presented by Theatre on Fire
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Darren Evans
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Charlestown) Exit, Pursued by a Bear is a complicated show. The topic of domestic abuse is a sensitive one. Most media outlets using it as a subject twist reality to create good and evil characters out of common humans. In truth, an abuser isn’t all evil and the victim isn’t all sugar and spice; they are people with flaws like everyone else. Women and children aren’t the only victims of domestic violence (but are the majority of victims), men aren’t the only perpetrators of abuse (again, they are the majority), and abuse isn’t exclusive to heterosexual couples. Exit is a rare jewel of a show because playwright Lauren Gunderson pays proper respect to victims of domestic abuse while spinning a hilarious tale. Her victim isn’t the butt of jokes and her villain isn’t pure, concentrated evil.
The play opens on Kyle (Tim Hoover) duct taped to his easy chair. He is gagged and helpless in his living room. Nan Carter (Mary-Liz Murray), our heroine, is determined to leave Kyle but before she abandons him to the black bears that surround their cabin, she acts out scenes from their troubled marriage with friends Simon (Cameron Beaty Gosselin) and Sweetheart (Samantha Evans). This play is loosely based on the works of William Shakespeare. It may be inappropriate for small children and adults allergic to Jimmy Carter quotes.
Director Darren Evans captures an ethos of grave veneration for the script while giving his actors free reign over their characters. Normally a man trapped in an easy chair isn’t funny. It shouldn’t be and it isn’t until Murray, Gosselin and Evans introduce their characters to the audience. Murray’s Nan doesn’t have a vindictive bone in her determined body. She’s using this opportunity to finally reach the man she used to love. It isn’t abduction so much as mandatory care-frontation. Nan’s the type to swear that she doesn’t want to hurt Kyle. Murray is so convincing as Nan that we actually believe her.
Hoover plays Kyle as a simple man with great potential for good. His portrayal is reminiscent of a certain jackass rapper who can’t understand why the world can’t forget his past transgressions. Hoover is especially moving when we learn that Kyle suffers from PTSD. His dad used to beat his mom. What Kyle and Nan need is a therapist but Kyle has run out of time and neither of these simple folk considered psychology an option (a great reason for the Affordable Care Act to exist).
Exit, Pursued by a Bear creates comedy from an unexpected dramatic source. Experienced domestic violence is never funny and, like rape, should be approached for discussion with great care. Yet Gunderson, Evans and the cast respectfully create a reality in which abuse isn’t funny but its discussion is. I repeat: domestic abuse is not funny (nor is rape. Ever. Never. EVER.) because treating people as objects or without respect is wrong. But, when due diligence is applied as in this production, the examination of such topics can be.