Thursday, August 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: THE EXIT INTERVIEW

By Toby Zinman

Review: THE EXIT INTERVIEW

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By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Like most Concept Art, The Exit Interview is better as a concept than as art.  Written by William Missouri Downs, and directed by Seth Rozin, the play is a sometimes entertaining sometimes tedious satire about God and the world. Or about faith and atheism. Or about science and theology. Or about the commercialization of art, the crassness of contemporary news media, the fecklessness of academia, the objectification of women, the horrors of gun violence or, alternatively, the horrors of oboe obsession, or….Well, you get the idea: too much. Way too much topic, way too little play.

The plot premise is the “exit interview” of a fired college professor, one Dick (“I prefer Richard”—well, he would, wouldn’t he?) Fig (the estimable Dan Hodge). Conducting the interview is a shallow human resources type (the always fine Cheryl Williams) who believes she can prove God loves her by making a collage of her wished-for life.  A masked gunman appears, terrorizing the campus, motives unknown.

The stylistic premise is that Richard Fig’s academic specialty is Bertolt Brecht.  Brecht, Famous Modern German Playwright, believed that the way to make audiences think was to keep them from emotional involvement in the play. To accomplish this he used what is known as “the alienation effect” (it’s better in German), a technique of illusion-breaking by suddenly having the characters break into song, or dance or startling jokiness  or directly addressing the audience.

And so Downs uses the Brechtian technique for his play, adding cheerleaders (Meghan Malloy and Jennifer MacMillan who is a knockout) which was my favorite bit,  as well as  product placement, a debate between scientists having temper tantrums and Morman believers with the golden tablets on display, TV underwear commercials, an interviewer (Eric Kramer) from Fox News, young mothers small-talking on a park bench,  the occasional Irish bishop (David Bardeen) and…well, you get the idea. The kitchen sink approach.

William Missouri Downs isn’t nearly as funny—or as profound—as he apparently thinks he is. What carries The Exit Interview  is the excellence of the cast who can pull all this off with style and grace and quick costume changes. The problem is that  no matter how good they are, Bertolt Brecht was not anybody’s idea of the King of Comedy. A favorite quote: “He who laughs has not yet heard the bad news.”  Ha ha ha.

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InterAct Theatre Company at the Adrienne, 2030 Sansom St. Through Nov.11. Tickets $20-37. Information: 215-568-8077 or www.InterActTheatre.org

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About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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