The liner notes for Primary Stages’ Exit Strategy state that the play was first produced in Chicago after the city proposed a potential closure of 129 public schools, 54 of which were in low income neighborhoods. The announcement occurred in 2013, but three years later, the issues and conversations remain. While Ike Holter’s gripping drama is set specifically in this mid-western city, it could well be set in Anywhere, USA.
Holter’s piece takes place in a run down Chicago high school where Ricky (Ryan Spahn) an exasperated milquetoast Principal, must announce the school’s impending closure to his long term veteran teacher Pam (Deirdre Madigan). Pam feels as though Ricky didn’t fight hard enough to keep the school open, but soon, her fellow colleagues and a tech savvy student, Donnie (Brandon J. Pierce) join forces to keep the school afloat.
Holter’s dialogue is sharp and focused and, given the tight chemistry of this cast, one may even feel as though they’ve actually been on a battlefield together in real life. What works so well in his story is that there is no heavy handed lesson being taught here. Rather, Holter provides an opportunity for serious discussion about one of our most dire socioeconomic problems- and ably tackles some others along the way.
The playwright has grown immensely with this piece. His last work, Hit the Wall, which fictitiously depicted the Stonewall Rebellion and 1969 gay New York City life was interesting, but it lacked well rounded, realistic characters. In Exit Strategy, it is clear that he has spent a great deal of time studying the intricacies of public educators and schools in peril.
Like the school, Exit Strategy must close Primary Stages 2015-2016 season on May 8th. Until then, audiences should catch the Grade A work that is being done at the Cherry Lane Theatre.
For tickets and information, visit: Primary Stages