Exit Strategies

Talk about sticking your neck out, Edge Theater's holiday season production is a world premiere (their 2014 New Play Festival winner) focused on family dysfunction. As luck would have it, Executive/Artistic Director Rick Yaconis' gamble, on Jeffrey Neuman's script, turns out to be fortuitous for those who have already taken in the usual holiday rituals or for those who forego these seasonal rites. In preparation for visiting your family or relatives, or for them to visit you, we guarantee that hanging out with the folks in Exit Strategy will make your trials seem tame in comparison.

Andrew Uhlenhopp as Chase and Missy Moore as Kai
Andrew Uhlenhopp as Chase
and Missy Moore as Kai
Photo: Rachael Graham/ RDG Photography
Chase (Andrew Uhlenhopp), is a moderately successful gay playwright returning to his childhood home for his father's funeral. His companion is not his husband, but his best friend, Kai (Missy Moore), a pricey escort entrepreneur with whom he shares a sarcastic sense of humor and a love of alcohol.

Enter Chase's mom, Sheryl (Emma Messenger), the grieving widow, basket-case-in-the-making, unaware of the depth of her state of denial. Later, her estranged daugther, Rachel (Emily Paton Davies), Chase's sister, comes knocking with a chip on her shoulder and a pain in her heart.

Neuman has a great things going here, with scenes that harken to the classic dysfunctional dynamics of O'Neill, Williams, and Albee, but the plotline still needs a little work. Lucky for him, he is bequeathed with a perfect combination of direction and performance. Kate Marie Folkins helms the show. In the program notes, she recounts a key point taken from her early conversations with Neuman: that the worst thing that could happen with this premiere is that the play wasn't funny and audiences weren't laughing.

There is plenty to laugh at here, as the story's circumstances and character idiosyncracies unfold. In fact, the performances are so impressive, it's easy to overlook some plot shortages that, if tweeked, could make this a great comedy, and one which would synchronize better with the message of the holidays.

The laughs come easy for Chase and Kai, as they enter his childhood home. His calls to his mother bring no initial response, so they set about trying to find some form of liquor in the house, while voguing with their best "insensitive and inappropriate" New York behavior. Meanwhile, we're like, "Who ARE these outrageous people?"

Emma Messenger as Sheryl and Emily Paton Davies as Rachel
Emma Messenger as Sheryl and
Emily Paton Davies as Rachel
Photo: Rachael Graham/ RDG Photography
When the pill-popping mother staggers out to find Kai alone, we see from where Chase inherits his vitriolic sarcasm. The venom slinging verbal volleys are so cutting throughout that we are forced to embrace our snidest smile, until Rachel's revelations present a serious challenge to humor of any kind.

Without revealing her secret, let it suffice to say that the playwright was, by self admission through the character of Chase, in a quandry as to how to proceed, ending the play just as Chase would write the final scene, even as Chase admits it's no ending. Suddenly, we have an existential drama, upon which the lights go down. From this vantage point, an opportunity was lost to have Kai resolve Rachel's issue, heal some long-festering wounds, and have a classic comedic ending.

Regardless, Uhlenhopp's dismissive irony, Moore's disarming honesty, Messenger's defensive delusions, and Davies' shattered dreams are mesmerizing, revealing the instrinsic logic of the characters and the ending as they would write it, if it were a comedy.

The Edge Theater Company's presentation of Exit Strategies, by Jeff Neuman runs through December 27th. For tickets:

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