Loud. Profane. Offensive. Sad. Hard to watch.
These are words that flew raced through my mind the first 10 minutes of “Exit Strategy” a play written by Ike Holter and directed by John Dillon. And the fact that I felt that way meant that the message was swiftly, relentlessly, ruthlessly driven home: we must do better – our children, teachers, administrators deserve BETTER.
“Exit Strategy” is the story of how the faculty and student body react when they learn their inner-city Chicago school will be closed within the next school year. There is yelling, sarcasm, and plenty of cursing. One teacher choses to commit suicide rather than face life away from the school and students she’s poured 20+ years into. Another teacher wants to fight… but won’t go it alone… and misdirects her rage toward a student who literally and figuratively highjacks her idea to fight back. We see another teacher experience PTSD, triggered by memories of her former school closing and the battle she fought – and lost – to keep it open. And on sad and glaring display was the cowardliness of the Vice-Principal who was shamed to do “something” late in the game… but then gave up when his job was threatened.
“Exit Strategy” is going to make you mad. You’re going to feel uncomfortable and helpless. You’ll ask yourself, “Why am I still sitting here?!” in anguished frustration (like you don’t know how to pick up your purse and leave). You’re going to laugh at the funny parts, then ask yourself, “Is THIS why this school is failing, why the children have no faith in the ‘system’, why the teachers feel unsupported, why the administration feels boxed in – because we’re sitting here LAUGHING instead of doing something about it?” You’ll leave the theatre in silence, as my husband and I left the Fulton County Southwest Arts Center one beautiful Saturday afternoon, trying to find something, ANYTHING to say and or do, to lighten the mood. And you’ll take the long way home, driving through several neighborhoods and past countless schools, wondering if “Exit Strategy” is going on in “there”; and what you can do to help.
I know it was “just a play”: I had the fortune of escaping “that world” to my comfortable suburban life and my daughter’s highly ranked school. But I also realize that there is no such exit for literally tens of thousands of students and adults across our great nation. That there is no Exit Strategy for them. And THAT is why I was so offended to watch that play – it was just too real. The call to action that rises in one’s soul cannot be dismissed – it must be heeded and answered.
And it is for the above reasons that I give this loud, profane, offensive, sad, hard-to-watch, heart-breaking play an Excellent rating.