Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Exit, Pursued by a Bear
Nan Carter (Sara Renee Morris) early on reveals the reason her husband Kyle (Max Sorg) is duct-taped to his favorite recliner; she intends to kill him. Well, actually, to let him be killed, savaged by hungry bears as they scarf up all his illegally acquired venison and no doubt find him appetizing as well. Her companion, buxom and barely clothed Sweetheart (Laura Espino), provides assistance in carrying out the scheme, and doubles as Kyle in re-enactments of his misdeeds. These flashbacks are played out for Kyle's benefit, intended to make him see the error of his ways, and to understand why Nan now has to take drastic measures in order to secure her freedom.
When Kyle gets rambunctious in his attempts to break his bonds, Nan calls for "backup," meaning her BFF Simon (Jacob Marker), very gay, flamboyant, and high camp, and also very faithful to Nan and eager to see her escape her rotten marriage. As the re-enactments reveals more and more of Kyle's wrongdoings, the atmosphere heats up, as Nan realizes what she is really doing and begins to rethink her scheme. We also get to hear Kyle plead for forgiveness, claiming he's now a changed man, declaring his undying love for Nan and the desire for a second chance. Will she waver? Will Sweetheart and Simon persuade her to stick with her scheme? Will Kyle indeed be eaten alive?
In the course of ninety wild and weird minutes, we are also taken inside the dynamics of an abusive relationship, getting a glimpse of how it begins, and how it continues. Gunderson's intention is real enough, sobering in the midst of the farcical action, and raises genuine questions about what we do as a society to help women trapped like Nan. Nan's ultimate decision just might make a whole lot of wacky sense, given the context.
The actors fill their roles well, and pull out all the stops for this high-energy, no-holds-barred style. Morris carries the weight of the play's message, and does a good job of balancing serious moments with farce. Marker has all the right moves and a good pout; Sorg is good at tugging at our sympathies, just enough to tickle the edge of doubt. Espino, who was memorable in M. Butterfly, here gets to show off even more comic skills, as the not-so-dim-as-she-looks Sweetheart. She even does a credible Kyle imitation.
As directed by Steve M. Boyle, it's a non-stop roller-coaster ride, but the whole effect can be shrill at times, so frenetic that it threatens to undermine believability, and occasionally hard to follow. There were times when I wished for a little less than 110% vocals. The play also has a plethora of endings, at least one of which seems superfluous.
The suitably tacky lower-middle-class set design by Ron Gasparinetti helps to make the story real, and costumes by Anna Chase are both fun and appropriate. Nick Kumamoto's lighting design sometimes leaves actors in the dark, but aids in the flashback scenes. George Psarras' sound design is one of the highlights of the show. Special kudos go to Miranda Whipple, properties designer, for some amazing and decidedly unusual props.
You'll have to decide for yourself whether Nan is right or notlook past the shouting and farce to take a stand, with Kyle, or with the bears.
Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by Lauren Gunderson; presented by City Lights Theater Company through June 14, 2015; 529 S. Second Street, San Jose. Tickets available at 408-295-4200 or at www.cltc.org.
- Jeanie K. Smith