Exit, Pursued by a Bear
An abusive husband gets a shot of Southern discomfort in this hysterical revenge comedy
Reviewed by Jillian Owens, Fri., Aug. 31, 2012
Exit, Pursued by a BearHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St., 479-7529
Through Sept. 8
Running time: 1 hr., 25 min.
As I drove past Jimmy Carter's hometown in southwestern Georgia last weekend, the 39th president's words rang in my ears. In a 1980 speech condemning the Soviet Union's disastrous invasion of Afghanistan – a conflict sometimes called "the Bear Trap" – Carter proclaimed, "Aggression, unopposed, becomes a contagious disease." It's not that I'm a Carter fanatic or anything, but Nan Carter (no relation), the heroine of Lauren Gunderson's play Exit, Pursued by a Bear, sure is.
Nan's a veritable Jimmy encyclopedia, looking to her would-be dad for strength as she attempts to stage her own bear trap in a dingy home in the mountains north of Atlanta. See, she's fed up with her abusive husband Kyle, and so, with inspiration from Shakespeare and help from her gay bestie Simon and stripper-slash-actress Sweetheart, Nan devises an elaborate plan to feed Kyle to the bears lurking in the woods outside.
With utterly authentic sound by Breton Christopherson and set by Mark Pickell, Exit, Pursued by a Bear is hysterical in every sense of the word; it is as funny as it is completely delirious. Stephen Mercantel's Simon and Indigo Rael's Sweetheart offer gusts of caricatured lightness, spouting irresistible, well-timed one-liners with contagious energy. Indeed, Capital T Theatre's production maintains buoyancy throughout as the actors move fluidly through Gunderson's witty, metatheatrical dialogue, earning all the grins that come with the joke seemingly embedded in the play: "An NRA member, an animal rights activist, a stripper, and a homosexual walk into a theatre ..." But when you stop and think about it, Gunderson's subject matter is really quite serious. Kyle's unopposed aggression, his failure to protect and provide, has so destroyed his sensitive wife that he wakes up duct-taped to a La-Z-Boy with a frying-pan-induced shiner and a busty stripper performing dramatic renditions of his disintegrating marriage. That's fucked up on every level. Has Nan caught the contagious disease?
While you might expect her to be like the vengeful murderesses in Chicago's "Cell Block Tango," Molly Karrasch plays Nan as a sweet, slightly neurotic woman in a desperate situation. Though I know I'm supposed to sympathize with her, Karrasch's fairly even emotional register is somewhat less compelling than Joey Hood's anguished, sweet-talking Kyle, which proves that Hood's performance is a triumph. He has the magnetic, sickening attraction of an abuser; though he is constrained by duct tape for nearly the entire play, he nearly hoodwinks both the audience and Nan. Some sort of redemption (read: Kyle doesn't get eaten by bears) and a swell karaoke epilogue follow, but I left the theatre wondering: Is aggression the only way to escape aggression?