Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Exit, Pursued by a Bear at Olympia Little Theatre

I THINK!!! Olympia Little Theatre’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear is an edgy, gutsy dark comedy in line with some of the riskiest works seen in Olympia, such as Theater Artists Olympia’s double dose of Reservoir Dogs or The Goat or Who is Sylvia.
Jason Downer as Kyle and Nicole Galyean as Nan
The reason I put the word “think” in all-caps, italics and followed by a string of exclamation points is because I was unable to clearly hear and understand enough to be able to objectively critique the play. Attribute that to the Southern accents. As I stated in another review just this week, I am not an astute judge of accents, but I spent the first 30 years of my life in Mississippi; I should be able to understand people doing a Southern accent. Perhaps the acoustics or the OLT sound system can share some of the blame. And yes, I do have less than perfect hearing. I wear hearing aids. But if I can hear the New and Old England accents in Fighting Over Beverly or the Mississippi Delta drawl in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (both Harlequin Productions), or odd speech in n other shows at OLT such as Murderers or Sea Marks, both of which had the potential for such problems, then I should be able to hear these back woods Georgians in Exit . . .
from left: Katrina Groen as Sweetheart, Jason Downer and Nicole Galyean
from left: Katrina Groen, Kevin Gowrylow as Simon and Nicole Galyean
Having said that, this play with a most intriguing title by Lauren Gunderson is an innovative dark comedy about a disturbing subject: spouse abuse. I applaud Gunderson and OLT for attempting it.
The premise is certainly unique. Nan Carter (Nicole Galyean) has been repeatedly abused by her macho hunter husband, Kyle (Jason Downer). In order to teach him a lesson or seek revenge (it’s not entirely clear which), she recruits her lifelong best friend, Simon Beaufort (Kevin Gowrylow) and her new friend Sweetheart (Katrina Groen) to theatrically perform for Kyle scenes from his miserable life after having conked him over the head with a frying pan and duct taping him to a chair.
Nan is a great admirer of Jimmy Carter and mentions him frequently throughout the play. She wishes Jimmy Carter was her father. She also loves her husband but can no longer put up with his abuse. She swings back and forth between wanting to forgive him and wanting to kill him. This is a complex and difficult character to portray, made doubly hard by being such a dark comedy that verges on farce. Galyean’s acting is natural and believable in this complex role.
Downer is wonderful as Kyle. For an actor who spends much of his stage time duct taped to a chair and half of that with his mouth taped shut, he does some terrific acting — mostly done with grunts and a myriad of facial expressions.
Sweetheart is a gun-toting trailer-trash sexpot with dreams of becoming a Hollywood star. She loves Shakespeare and peppers her performances with references to the bard. (The strange title of the play is, in fact, a stage direction Shakespeare wrote in his script for The Winter’s Tale. Groen is fabulous in this role. She looks the part and acts it with great relish.
Simon is a clichéd, stereotypical gay man who first enters dressed as a female cheerleader. I have big problems with this character. I do not like that he was written as such an obvious spoof of a gay man and I’m not crazy about the manner in which Gowrylow portrays him, although I can’t imagine how else he could be portrayed. I looked up other reviews of the play and found that others had the same complaint about the character.  That said, Gowrylow plays Simon as well as can be expected. He certainly throws himself into the part and holds nothing back, and he actually gets some of the best comedic lines.
Some of the set-ups are done with video projections, and some of the narration is done by characters telling their stories in asides to the audience. And there is a random karaoke number that I thought was totally superfluous.
Matthew Moeller’s set design leaves a lot to be desired. Moeller can do better, as proven by his work on OLT’s recent productions Boeing, Boeing and Educating Rita. OLT normally has seating on three sides and a backdrop that in most shows in the back wall of whatever house or apartment the scenes take place in. For this production they brought in folding chairs to create an in-the-round space which took away the ability to effectively use a back wall.
Finally, you might want to know what this play has to do with being pursued by a bear. For the answer to that you’ll have to attend the play.
WHEN: 7:55 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 1:55 p.m. Sunday through April 13
WHERE: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave., NE, Olympia
TICKETS: $10-$14, available at Yenney Music Company on Harrison Avenue (360-943-7500) or INFORMATION: 360-786-9484,

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