Exit Strategy Review - There Can Be No Retreat

 I was there for the end of Arai Middle School.  Housed in the Uptown building now known as Uplift, the closing was a messy protracted affair with one school slowly devouring the other.  For Arai’s final year just a handful of its students (some of whom tried but did not succeed at the conquering charter school) were confined to a few classrooms while their Uplift peers freely wandered the halls they had once called their own.  Needless to say this arrangement sometimes led to conflict. 

Pat Whalen, HB Ward, Jerry MacKinnon, Danny Martinez (photo by Ryan Bourque)

In case you have not heard, education is the new battlefield with corporate charter schools on one side and public schools the other.  It is an almost exclusively urban war with schools like Rahm Emanuel’s alma mater New Trier in no danger of being taken over.  Instead the collateral damage of over fifty schools (fifty!) can be felt in places like Englewood, Austin, and Uptown. 

Jerry MacKinnon and Pat Whalen (photo by Ryan Bourque)

Ike Holter’s new play, Exit Strategy, brings the viewer directly to the battlefield as a motley group of educators reckon with the impending closing of their school.  Set almost exclusively in the teacher’s lounge, Exit Strategy begins with in-over-his-head Assistant Principal Ricky breaking the news of the school’s closing to the prickly and abrasive veteran teacher Pam.  Her reaction, which may be the most shocking plot development in the play, is not good.  It also initially felt like an overreach but, to the credit of the script, is eventually well digested by her colleagues. 

Danny Martinez and Lucy Sandy (photo by Ryan Bourque)

Those faculty members include the hip, maybe stoner Luce (Danny Martinez), the veteran teacher who still cares greatly for her students Sadie (Lucy Sandy), the bitter recovered alcoholic who dearly misses an old friend Arnold (HB Ward), and the at first bumbling, but ultimately impassioned Assistant Principal Ricky (Patrick Whalen).  Entering the mix mid-flow is Senior Donnie (Jerry MacKinnon who steals scene after scene with his passion and intensity) who will do anything to keep the school from closing.  Together the cast meshes well and although each actor definitely plays a distinct type of educator, the characters were fleshed out enough not to feel clichéd. 

Jerry MacKinnon, Danny Martinez, Lucy Sandy (photo by Ryan Bourque)

A lot of credit goes to director Gus Menary who does well in developing what is really an insightful and sharp script.  Maybe the intensity level ran a little too high at times (and at one and three-fourths an hour it probably could have used an intermission).  But this is not a production that cheapens the outcome (which, while predictable, is still moving in its execution).  This production truly deserves to be viewed by anyone that values education.  It is also recommended for those who think they know which side of the education divide they stand on.  This drama might make you rethink your stance.  Here's hoping that the Jackalope Theatre Company reserves a seat for the mayor.

Danny Martinez, Jerry MacKinnon, Paloma Nozicka (photo by Ryan Bourque)

Bottom Line:  Exit Strategy is highly recommended.  $5-$20.  At Broadway Armory Park (5917 North Broadway).  Through June 15th, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 3:00.  To purchase tickets go to jackalopetheatre.  For more reviews and theater information, go to theaterinchicago.

 

Lucy Sandy, Pat Whalen, Jerry MacKinnon, Paloma Nozicka (photo by Ryan Bourque)

 

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