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Exit Strategy: Theater review by Adam Feldman
“Let me—let me try to help,” pleads Ricky (Ryan Spahn), an ineffectual high-school administrator, to Pam (the mordant Deirdre Madigan), a nail gun of an English teacher. He has just broken the news to her that the city of Chicago is closing their decrepit school, a rattrap inauspiciously named Tumbldn, and she is not taking it well. But how can anyone help? The overworked teachers in Ike Holter’s Exit Strategy do worry about their students, mostly poor minorities whom the system has failed. “They are not going to be fine,” says Jania (the excellent Christina Nieves). “Fine is for white kids and North Side kids and all the other kids who aren’t our kids.” But it takes a media-savvy and rule-flouting senior, Donnie (Brandon J. Pierce)—who has more to lose than a job—to spark a real movement to save the school.
Holter’s snappy, overlapping dialogue is often very funny, and the play stays sympathetic to its characters even as it frames them in a critique of the limits of wokeness. But it is also overly broad (a weakness sometimes exacerbated by Kip Fagan’s direction), and it veers into sentimentality. Although Exit Strategy is about activism, not education, it might be stronger if it engaged more specifically with the issues. Why is this school being closed? Why is it worth saving? The play is committed to teaching, but its lesson plan feels sketchy.—Adam Feldman
Cherry Lane Theatre (Off Broadway). By Ike Holter. Directed by Kip Fagan. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
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