Bouncing, bubbly cheerleaders shout out, “Give me an O-F-F-E-N-S-I-V-E.” They declaim in their cheeriest rah-rah narration that it’s precisely what “The Exit Interview” will be: offensive. But the transgressions portrayed aren’t the kind we normally associate with the word. Rather, the play’s definition refers to the other things we don’t talk about in polite society: religion, politics, God, guns, gays, global warming, criticism of Fox News and anything else that threatens to touch on real issues.
William Missouri Downs’ cultural commentary, “The Exit Interview,” opened May 13 at Midtown’s Reno Little Theater. Directed skillfully by James Mardock and Assistant Director Kevin McCray, the two-act comedic satire pokes fun at our abhorrence of talking about anything of substance. But Downs goes even further by taking a hard look at where we get the news and information that forms our views, and how the media manipulates us to sell everything from brassieres to self-help fictions.
Chad Sweet is engaging as Dick Fig, the serious, cerebral professor with a very unserious name. Fig is a Bertolt Brecht scholar who has lost his job at the university. Sophie Moeller plays Eunice, the ditsy Human Resources interviewer who is a true believer in self-help fads and especially her religion. But when a masked shooter begins to fire at students randomly as he approaches the administration building, Fig and Eunice are forced to peel away their media-manipulated beliefs and face the real meaning of life.
If that doesn’t seem quite like a plot for either a comedy or a satire, everything in this play is deliberately incongruous – from the flashing lights to cheerleaders, messages from on high projected on suspended screens, and cuts to commercial at pivotal points in the action. These are precisely the kinds of theatrical techniques used by the German playwright. But Downs isn’t co-opting Brecht’s trademark style. Rather, he’s using it cleverly to draw a parallel between Brecht’s manipulation of his audiences and modern media’s manipulation of reality.
“The Exit Interview” is a classically smart play. It’s entertaining so you can laugh and have a rollicking good time while the author delivers an insightful sucker punch you never see coming. The fine acting, direction, and set design conspire in a most Brechtian way to deliver a delightful evening of fun and introspection. This production is absolutely a must see. Five savvy stars!
What: “The Exit Interview”
Where: Reno Little Theater, 147 E. Pueblo, Reno
When: Through May 28
By Galen Watson