Everyone Needs an Exit Strategy

Harbinger Theatre continues its inaugural season of presenting the Capital Region with
thought provoking, out of the box rarely seen in this area, stage productions. Playwright
Ike Holter’s Exit Strategy is the latest production to hit the boards of this fledgling
community theatre company. Loosely based on the closing of 12 schools in Chicago in
2012 by then Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the play focuses on a fictional high school about to
go under the wrecking ball at the close of the school year. The inner city school is in
obvious state of neglect, abuse and has an attrition rate of something around 40% of its
senior class. The teachers have been reduced to bring in their own toilet paper and
obviously not too much works in the building. A burst pipe and plumbing issue
prevented the budget from covering an exterminator, so one teacher arrives with mouse
traps and rat killer. The play attempts to make a strong case for the problems of the
education system in Chicago and by extrapolation in the country as a whole.
What is not lost this writer is the the play is being produced at Albany Barn, in a
repurposed inner city school, having been given new life as an arts center. The audience
sits in the old gym and the stage is the school’s former stage. Not everything needs to be
bulldozed away.

One of the biggest problems with the play is there is no movement. You know from the
opening scene where this is all headed and nothing is going to change the outcome. The
cast does their best to try and convince themselves and the audience that all is not in

The opening scene with assistant principal Ricky and veteran teacher Pam is both at
once concerning and humorous. Ricky is mealy, spinless, nervous and in complete fear
of Pam, the 23 year English teaching veteran who has reached the end of her rope. She
doesn’t care what she says or to whom she says it. The two clash, he whimpers, she
pontificates, he cries and she berates him. Clearly there is no sense of respect for
authority implied or earned. Brendan O’Dwyer’s Ricky is a joy to watch. His comic
timing is the highlight of the production. Lisa Bryk as Pam is grating and annoying, and
plays well to her character.

As the scenes progress we meet Sadie, Luce, Arnold and Jania all faculty members who
represent the spectrum of the faculty… those willing to fight for keeping the school open,
those resigned to its fate and those only concerned with their own future. Sade’
Thompson’s return to the Harbinger stage is a delight as she storms over everyone. Ageli
Lillman, Dennis Skiba and Brian Raná round out the faculty members to greater or
lessor degrees of success. Michael Patrick Halkitis is Donnie, the wise cracking foul
mouthed senior who is really the heart of the school. He hacks into the website to create a go fund me page, he unites with Ricky and gives him the back bone and spine he needs
to fight for what he believes in.

Exit Strategy is directed by Dennis Skiba. No stranger to the Harbinger stage, this marks
Skiba’s directorial debut. It is difficult enough to direct a play, to move and motivate the
actors, to create with the actors the ebb and flow of emotion that the author has on the
page. For a first time director it can be overwhelming. Aside from directing this
production, Skiba has taken the additional role of performing. His cast and the
production may have been better served if he had chosen to concentrate on the directing
aspect of the show and gotten that experience under his belt. A more nuanced
performance from almost every performer would have added a great deal to the
production. To have a show that runs long, 1hour 50 minutes with no intermission is a
long time to hold your audience. To have a play that relies on the emotions of the actors
to keep the audience engaged is very difficult for even the most experienced of directors.
When you have a play that goes “nowhere”, all you have are the actors to engage.

Whether the production is a complete success is almost secondary to the fact that once
again, you will leave the Harbinger Theatre having a conversation about the larger questions the play presents; about the state of the education system in our country today and our own area in particular.

All said, Harbinger needs to be commended for giving community members the
opportunity to spread their wings. Whether on stage or behind the footlights, this is a
wonderful venue to hon their craft, gain the experience and just have the courage to
present what they believe in and have a passion for. The Capital Region audience needs
to continue to support venues like Harbinger Theatre and encourage the growth of
performers and technical crew. These people put themselves out there every time the
lights go up. We owe it to them and our community to see that venues like this thrive
and grow.

Exit Strategy runs through June 25. All shows are at 7:30. tickets are $15. and may be
purchased on the Eventbrite website.

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