Exit, Pursued by Bears
nytheatre.com review by Josh Sherman
June 19, 2009
Note to theatergoers: do not be fooled by the title of the latest effort from the experimental theater troupe Aztec Economy, now playing at the Antidepressant Festival at the Brick Theater in Williamsburg. Their permutation of arguably the most famous stage direction in the Shakespearean canon (Antigonus's off-stage demise in The Winter's Tale) has absolutely no relevance to the proceedings at hand during the sometimes fascinating, sometimes baffling absurdist theater-poem that is Exit, Pursued By Bears. Thanks to a talented group of actors, notably Jared Culverhouse in the leading role, a quick running time of 60 minutes, and some shrewd direction by Julie Rossman, the piece keeps from veering too far off out into the Ionesco-sphere.
The dreamlike quality of the piece, written by Aztec Economy founder Casey Wimpee, has its highlights as our apparent protagonist Leon (Culverhouse) leads us to meet a variety of colorful characters in the city of Chicago. We learn that Leon has a sexual predilection towards furries (people who dress up in animal costumes as foreplay) and a cold-fish cross-dressing wife Ursula (a masculine Michael Mason) as he tries to work out his issues through confessionals to his therapist Corbin (Cole Wimpee). Eventually the storyline takes us down the Mississippi River to New Orleans, where Leon has to metaphorically confront the issue of his brother's AIDS-related death.
Wimpee's script makes nice use of connections between the two cities' histories, threading common themes of jazz, political corruption, and the coincidence that Chicago Bears won their only title at the Superdome—all of that worked for me. And throughout most of Exit, Pursued By Bears, the twists and turns were engrossing enough to keep me engaged. But big problems arise with a lack of a payoff at the play's conclusion—in an absurdist piece that works, I'm thinking about my mortality, or how tragic it all is, or about politics—none of that happened here. I never got to know Leon's brother in the script, so his death doesn't move me or make me ponder a greater truth. And, without spoiling the end, I can say that when it was finally revealed what Leon actually is, it made me wonder why I spent an hour following one protagonist only to realize the play is really about another character altogether.
Quite frankly, I'm intrigued with the potential of Exit, Pursued By Bears, and as I stated earlier, the cast and director do a terrific job interpreting Wimpee's work. They are completely committed to their characters and get to deliver some great lucid-dream monologues. Unfortunately, the piece doesn't work as a whole for me but it's certainly playing at the proper space for this kind of risk-taking theater.