Ike Holter’s edgy, passionate script, ironically called EXIT STRATEGY, is exactly the type of play Zeitgeist Stage can sink its creative teeth into. Some of director David Miller’s best work has been in plays which center around students in crisis. (I’m remembering his sensitive staging of SPRING AWAKENING and his powerful take on PUNK ROCK).
Holter wrote EXIT STRATEGY two years ago to focus attention on the unsound and unsafe state of our inner city schools—but the play couldn’t be more timely, now that Betsy DeVos has been confirmed as Secretary of Education. It’s quite clear that Mr. Trump, instead of the old presidential promise of “a chicken in every pot,” has installed a fox in every henhouse.
EXIT STRATEGY (playing through March 11th) grabs hold of the audience with its characters’ quirky rhythms and truncated, staccato dialogue. Their fragmented speech anticipates the looming disintegration of their school—and their lives. They’re barely coping, without enough books or computers or time… barely functioning, certainly not concentrating on learning when they all know in their hearts what’s coming: The school will be closed to save money, if not today, then at the end of the year, and the money saved will be funneled into “better” schools in “better” neighborhoods, for students who are already advantaged.
Miller has a first rate cast: Maureen Adduci and Robert Bonotto are sublime as the older, battle worn teachers. Bonotto, especially, breaks your heart with a poignant revelation. Holter invents several heartrending moments that we don’t see coming, one of which has Johnny Quinones’ name on it.
The playwright gives Matthew Fagerberg’s character quite a journey, too, from toeing the management line to joining the opposition. Fagerberg gives a bold, compelling performance. Victoria George, as well, gives a wry performance as the teacher with the patience of Job, sweetly deferring to the mania around her.
What a cast Miller has assembled! Lillian Gomes is simply delightful as the excitable English teacher: The stage lights up when she enters. (And she rocks Elizabeth Cole Sheehan’s gorgeous costumes!) Jalani Dottin-Coye, too, is quite a find. He gives a tour de force as the smart-as-a-whip student who galvanizes the faculty and inspires righteous resistance. He’s funny. He’s charismatic. He’s a presence.