Joy Productions’ inaugural show, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, begins with a compelling image: Kyle Carter (Aaron Wertheim) sits in a recliner, tied down with a comically epic amount of duct tape, in a rural southern shack. He’s inert, passed out before the play begins, and doesn’t stir until slapped awake by his wife, Nan Carter (Dani Mohrbach). Nan has had enough of his drunkenness and abuse and aims to leave him for bear food. But before parting, Nan wants to reenact the low points of their sorry union. She enlists a stripper with thespian ambitions named Sweetheart (Amy Maniscalco) and her gay best friend, Simon (Alex Rocha), for the production.
Lauren Gunderson’s 2012 revenge comedy traffics in broad stereotypes rather than specificity. The abused wife, clueless redneck husband, wisecracking stripper, and sassy gay sidekick are tropes rather than full-fledged people. Yet this talented cast, under Sarah Hensley’s able direction, raises this utterly predictable material to a likability it probably doesn’t deserve. The southern accents slip in and out, but otherwise the acting is uniformly excellent.
The idea of a woman getting fed up and leaving a no-good man while exacting some payback might be compelling if there were any doubt as to the outcome. But Nan’s triumph is never in question, and Kyle’s awfulness is unquestionable, so there are no stakes or tension to this tale. Aside from the man tied down to a chair, there’s not much to remember here. Still, I’d be very interested to see what this new company can do with more interesting material. v