“Exit Strategy” at the Aurora
“Exit Strategy” at the Aurora Theatre
Ike Holter’s ”Exit Strategy” at the Aurora Theatre is one of many that this tiny Berkeley theater produces that talks about current problems effecting a vulnerable Americans.
In “Exit Strategy” the subject is the forced closing of a school in Chicago and how it effects its teachers, one administrator and a student about to graduate. The Aurora has staged other classroom dramas, most recently about the anti-vaccers in a tony Berkeley School. “Eureka Day” just opened in New York.
The small cast of 7 come in and out of the teacher’s lounge to discuss the fact that the school has one more school year before it meets the wrecking ball. The first scene show the acerbic veteran teacher Pam (Margo Hall), complaining to the only white guy is the cast, the vice principal Ricky (Adam Niemann) about the closure. The reasons: low test scores, absences, and gentrification of the neighborhood with a Trader Joe’s coming in.
They have one more year at the school and the play is divided into the different months until the last scene in June on the date of the destruction. During this time the characters do a lot of finger pointing, mainly at Ricky who just sat back while the rest of them have been demonstrating and acting up to save the school.
Arnold ((Michael J. Asberry) is another seasoned teacher but he is realistic throughout. He comes in at the beginning and takes his name off his mailbox and continues to tell them that any more of their activism is fruitless. He has a history with Pam that is explained as she comes back into the story.
The two women, Jania (Gabriella Fanuele), an Hispanic who translates for them into and out of Spanish at several points and Sadie (Sam Jackson) , an African American teacher, are the most eager to go on demonstrations and do anything they can to save the school. Luce (Ed Gonzalez Moreno) is another Hispanic teacher who has a relationship with Ricky, the details of which are revealed bit-by-bit. Ricky uses the high-school student Donnie (Tre’Vonne Bell) to organize the demonstrations with the students. His situation is most problematic because he will need two more credits from the defunct school to graduate.
There is much back and forth with the characters blaming each other for the situation and describing their own personal lives and how they will be affected by the closure. The play is a reflection of the real life closures of many neighborhood schools in Chicago. By extension the subject is relevant to the neighboring Oakland Schools where like closures are threatened and executed.
The Aurora is close to its community in many of its productions and “Exit Strategy” is one of its most realistic plays. It is told through the eyes of the employees of the schools to be closed.
“Exit Strategy” is skillfully directed by Josh Costelllo, the new Artistic Director of the Aurora. Kate Boyd’s set is a perfect replica of a teacher’s lounge — coffee maker, mis-matched chairs, garbage can for recycling. Maggie Whitaker’s costumes in which the characters follow the change in the seasons are perfect. Stephanie Anne Johnson’s lighting and James Ard’s sound with replays of music from old movies are likewise effective.
“Exit Strategy” runs through September 29, 2019. auroratheatre.org or 510 843 4822.