Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Zeitgeist Stage Company Presents "Exit Strategy" - A Timely and Powerful Look At Public Education In Crisis - Final Week

The current Zeitgeist production of the powerful and timely play "Exit Strategy" by Ike Holter is in its final week of performances at the Plaza Theatre at Boston Center for the Arts. It should not be missed.  Find a way to get to the Plaza before this show closes this Saturday.

Unlike Jean Paul Sartre's masterpiece Existentialist play, "No Exit," this play contains exits at multiple levels. There is the exit of the struggling Chicago High School that is mandated to close at the end of the current school year. And then their are various types of exits that the characters consider and undertake in response to personal and school crises.

Director David Miller has assembled a stellar cast to tell this troubling tale. When he added this play to the current Zeitgeist season, the name of Betsy DeVos was largely unknown to most Americans. Her confirmation hearings to become Secretary of Education in the new Trump administration demonstrated her egregious lack of preparedness, and her troubling lack of support for public education. Inner-city schools like the one depicted in Mr. Holder's play are now in even more grave danger of continuing to crumble and die, while they persist in failing their students, teachers, and administrators. The play shines a powerful spotlight on the problems, while giving a sympathetic depiction of the teachers and students who valiantly struggle against long odds to make learning and teaching take place in suboptimal conditions.

The burning question that the play asks is whether the teachers, administrators, and students have the stamina and spark of hope to fight the city's decision to close their school. Not everyone agrees on what should happen, and thus hangs the tension and the narrative of this fine play. Here are the characters who must examine the questions of exiting:
  • Pam (The award-winning Maureen Adduci), is the cynical veteran of many decades trying to hold back the tide of decay and apathy at this school. She confronts the neophyte Vice Principal, Ricky, with a ferociousness and a string of salty language that would make a sailor blush. She is not having any of his bullshit when he tries to sugar coat the announcement that the school will be closing. She makes it abundantly clear that she has an exit plan for herself. This is a powerful performance by the always reliable Ms. Adduci.
  • Ricky (Matthew Fagerberg) is out of his depth as the young Vice Principal. He is powerless and effete, until a rebellious student, Donnie, confronts him and ignites a spark that transforms the young administrator and enables him to "grow a pair." Mr. Fagerberg takes Ricky on an impressive journey of transformation. It is one of the strongest performances of this theater season.
  • Arnold (Robert Bonotto) has been yoked to Pam as surviving senior faculty at the school for as long as anyone can remember. He is angry, bitter, and at a loss to know how to go forward now that Pam is no longer at his side. He sees Ricky's helplessness and naivete, and fights him at every turn. Mr. Bonotto's strong performance reminded me of vintage Spencer Tracy.
  • Luce (Johnny Quinones) is secretly Ricky's lover, but they have very different ways of choosing to confront the school crisis. It is unclear if their relationship can sustain itself in the face of this gulf. Luce is forced to contemplate his own unique exit. Mr. Quinones brings this character to life as Luce navigates the complications of career and relationship.
  • Sadie (Lillian Gomes) is a no nonsense teacher who just wants Ricky to do his job as disciplinarian and to suspend Donnie for the breach of protocol he has undertaken. Ms. Gomes presents Sadie as a strong and opinionated woman.
  • Jania (Victoria George) is the Spanish language interpreter for the school. She and "old school" Arnold do not get along, and she and Ricky often clash. Ms, George's portrayal is convincing and memorable.
  • Donnie (Jalani Dottin-Coye) is a complex combination of rebelliousness, desperation, inspiration and innovation. He is the soul of the play, and the catalyst behind a last ditch effort to save the school. The final scene with him standing alone after every other character has exited is poignant and prophetic. This young actor, whose own personal history mirrors that of Donnie, has a bright future in store for himself. He attended an inner-city school that was closed, forcing him to transfer. Art imitates life once again.
Robert Bonotto as Arnold, Victoria George as Jania
Johnny Quinones as Luce, Jalani Dottin-Coye as Donnie
Maureen Adduci as Pam, Matthew Fagerberg as Ricky
Lillian Gomes as Sadie
"Exit Strategy" by Ike Holter
Zeitgeist Stage Company
Plaza Theatre
Through March 11th

Look hard at your schedule and see if you can find your way to the entrance to the Plaza Theatre this week before this play - and this school - takes it final bow and exits.



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