Exit, Pursued by a Bear at Theatre Seven of Chicago | Theater review
Lauren Gunderson’s goofy revenge comedy roars a bit too broadly.
San Francisco playwright Lauren Gunderson’s 2010 revenge comedy takes its title from Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction. Gunderson’s tentative young heroine also draws inspiration from the Bard in the execution of her drastic plan to escape her unhappy, abusive marriage. With the help of a pair of ebullient friends—übergay bestie Simon (Ryan Lanning) and optimistic stripper and aspiring actress Sweetheart (Elizabeth Hope Williams)—Nan Carter (Tracey Kaplan) has duct-taped her good ol’ boy husband Kyle (Ryan Hallahan) to his recliner, where he’ll be a captive audience for the trio’s dramatic reenactments of his history of assholery. After that, they’ll surround Kyle with his own frozen venison and leave the back door open to the Georgia backwoods. Kyle will get no exit from his bear pursuit.
It’s an intriguing comic setup, and Gunderson packs her script with asides and other kinds of theatrical Easter eggs that can only be found onstage. Unfortunately, her characters feel as if they, too, could only exist onstage, particularly Nan’s sidekicks. Simon and Sweetheart are more quirk-packed, joke-spouting devices than fully drawn human beings. Under Cassy Sanders’s direction, all four actors consistently go bigger and broader than works in an up-close venue like the Greenhouse Theater Center’s upstairs studio, when what’s needed is a bit more nuance and sincerity. Yes, it’s a comedy, but for us to invest in Bear’s goofy high stakes we have to believe that Kyle and Nan would be together in the first place. Even as the play flashes back to show us their courtship, we’re not convinced.