Friday, June 6, 2014
QUICK REVIEW: 'EXIT STRATEGY' LOOKS AT A DOOMED SCHOOL
Guest blogger Susan Klonsky reviews Exit Strategy
If there has been another theater piece about the impact of school closings, I haven’t heard about it. Ike Holter’s Exit Strategy at Jackalope Theater takes place entirely in the teachers’ lounge of a dilapidated Chicago school slated for closing.
There are dazzling moments in this play but I won’t be the spiller of plot twists. The intensity and passion of the small cast is impressive. Each character is a composite of archetypal school personalities which play, for better or for worse, to certain stereotypes, with what one hopes is satirical intent. There’s Feisty Black Woman, Closeted Gay Administrator, Fiery Latina, Angry Old Burnt-out White guy. The politics of school closings are not the focus of the drama; nor are the inequities of school closings. This drama turns upon the human toll on the teachers, students and even an administrator, as they learn that their school will close at the end of the year. Time is running out. Can they fight? Should they fight? How to fight? Is it too late? As the reality becomes clear, and chances of reversing CPS policy appear hopeless, each reacts differently.
Donnie, an outstanding student, a senior, militant and brilliant, gets into trouble for his efforts to save his beloved school. He’s trying to raise $5000 to demonstrate to the public that the school is valued. Should he be punished for trespassing on the official website? The discussion among the adults of whether or not to suspend Donnie reveals a menu of educational philosophies and strategic options, all too recognizable.
Exit Strategy has some shining moments that capture the pathos and the dark hilarity in the teachers' lounge. The depiction of a quakingly nervous and initially clueless administrator is a riot. But the play could benefit from some hard editing. A few scenes verge on histrionic and (unintentionally) comic. The instantaneous transformations of some characters is implausibly short on nuance. And yet, this play brings forward big social questions: Why aren’t the “grown-ups” fighting to save their schools? Why is this school really being targeted? What happens to the people when a school is destroyed?
This play does not answer its questions glibly or finish with an easy victory. Holter opts to offer images of resistance and pain. Donnie points out in a heated exchange with the milquetoast administrator that 50 schools were closed and that “you have no f*#king idea what happened to those kids. You can’t track them down. You don’t care what happens to them. They never showed up at their ‘welcoming schools’.” In that moment he sums up succinctly the poisonous attitude of remote and faceless decision-makers who render decisions that change the lives of entire neighborhoods. The playwright has clearly been paying attention to the real story in Chicago, but this play illuminates questions that should be asked and raged about in every city.
Exit Strategy is playing at Jackalope Theater in the Broadway Armory through June 29. http://jackalopetheatre.org/?shows=exit-strategy