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