With blockbusters steadily hitting the movie theaters every weekend, two vibrant theater companies have created pieces that rival any celluloid romantic comedy or action vehicle out there.
In Exit, Pursued By A Bear, Theatre Seven of Chicago presents a conflicted heroine in the Reese Witherspoon or Emma Stone mode. Billed as a revenge comedy, playwright Lauren Gunderson takes us on an eccentric journey as kindhearted Nan (a transcendent Tracey Kaplan) plots to teach her abusive husband Kyle (an effective, multi-leveled Ryan Hallahan)a lesson. With the help of Sweetheart (a joyous Elizabeth Hope Williams), an exotic dancer with acting dreams, Nan knocks out Kyle and duck tapes him to a chair. This Jimmy Carter loving Southern house wife plans to use Sweetheart and, quickly arriving best friend, Simon (enjoyably melodramatic Ryan Lanning), a gay man with a penchant for costuming, to help her get Kyle to show remorse. But, Nan is soon torn between reconciliation and leaving her savage mate for the wildlife to devour.
Granted, the scenario plays into its stereotypes. But, Gunderson and director Cassy Sanders allow enough subtlety and true creativity to shine, beginning with the show’s title – a stage direction from Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, that this enjoyable evening eventually washes over you with a slightly poignant mist. There is comedy, here, yet food for thought, as well.
Meanwhile, Roundhouse’s Predator: The Musical 2.0 emerges as a perfect filmic companion piece to Exit, Pursued By A Bear’s femme based antics.
Highlighting the often homo-erotic context of action and buddy films, this production plays high homage to the Arnold Schwarzenegger classic while continuously having fun at its expense, as well.
The events of the film, wherein a handful of dangerous men encounter an often invisible enemy, are delivered in flashback by an elderly Dutch, Schwarzenegger’s character in the film. Of course, here, much dancing and shirtlessness occurs as these guns for hire are hunted down and eventually retaliate against their vicious enemy.
Lead by an enthusiastically enjoyable Cody Evans as the young Dutch, this production does occasionally come loose at the seams. But, director Derek Elstro and his smart writing crew are in on the fun, allowing the show to perfectly hit its marks as it own creation.
This is especially evident with Khalil LaSaldo’s hysterical Dillon, whose inspired dance moves cause contagious laughter, and the powerful presence of Glenese Hand, whose cool athletics seem to have no bounds, as the all consuming Predator.
Exit, Pursued By A Bear runs through July 15th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue, 773-404-7336. Predator: The Musical 2.0 runs through July 7th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-327-5252. —Brian Kirst