World premiers are tough! The idea and the perspective of “Exit Wounds” written by WENDY GRAF and directed by the incomparable caryn desai* is unique. I haven’t seen anything like it. To approach this subject matter from this angle is a bold choice, but then why does it feel so familiar?
Maybe it is because the catalyst of this play is an all too common occurrence in the world we live in. Maybe it is because I am all too familiar with the many forms of teenager anger. Maybe it’s because all of the talking points we hear in this play have been echoed time and time again on every single news station.
I can’t quite put my finger on why it feels so familiar when it has such a novel approach. Having it feel familiar is an uncomfortable sensation and it’s strange to say but unfortunately I wish this play made me more uncomfortable but for a different reason.
Someone wise once told me that we go to the theatre to be entertained. This show was entertaining but should it have it been? Yes all entertainment is supposed to be just that, entertaining. It’s meant to captivate the audience. This play can do that. I would encourage you to sit down to watch “Exit Wounds” without knowing anything about it. In fact, stop reading this review right now and go see it. You will be entertained, but is that enough? Especially when the subject matter is what it is.
SPOILER ALERT and please heed it. The best thing you can do is approach this play with an open un-opinionated mind. For those of you you who want to engage with me, a simple reviewer of theatre, and don’t mind a little synopsis you can keep reading.
Linda played by SUANNE SPOKE is delightfully crotchety and her comedic timing is spot on. She carries the show and keeps our spirits up throughout. This buoyancy supplies a feeling reminiscent of an after school special. I have to wonder if the playwright ever worried that if we were presented with so much of the darkness we hear about in the headlines that it would be too hard for us to find our out way of it. Still, I found myself actually yearning for the show to do just that, because maybe then we could finally learn how to deal with the what terrifies us the most by confronting it face to face.
In “Exit Wounds” we meet Danny played by HAYDEN KHARRAZI who, according to his father, Matt played by MICHAEL POLAK is an extremely troubled teen on a dangerous path that leads to mass destruction. His grandmother Linda has already hit rock bottom and she is in desperate need of a new purpose. They both appear to be wading through the dregs of emotional and mental despair but upon meeting each other the quicksand quickly evaporates. Almost too quickly.
Danny is a computer and piano prodigy whose potential seems limitless, and is extremely handsome to boot. He knows he has skills but complains that no one cares about them. He knows he is intelligent and shares his fascination with guns like a kid bragging about a Pokemon card collection. He doesn’t ever seem menacing and the play doesn’t help that by making slightly outdated references to Eminem and The Dead Kennedys. Those just don’t suggest murderer, they suggest rebel at worst.
He does talk about taking out his frustration on the a-holes at school and even mimes the use of a shotgun at one point, but it never really feels like he is on teetering on the brink. He wields the imaginary weapon like its a scalding hot potato, not an extension of his wrath. Danny lacks the unnerving stoicism that someone who has really made up their mind develops. His behavior is more angst than anger and more confused than determined.
Maybe he’s not that lost yet and that’s the point. Maybe the point of this play is more about how misguided worry can destroy relationships than it is about how to save a lost soul. The problem I have is that there are a lot of clues that lead you in the darkest direction but this show pulls back from going there far too often. If we are to take a deep dive into the aftermath and consequences of a school shooting then it feels like we should at least get to see the edge.
I do have to pause for a moment and acknowledge that in the cast bio for HAYDEN KHARRAZI he expresses hope that this play “will ignite conversations…about the current crisis our country is facing” and its admirable to make this a part of his introduction. Just the topic alone can fuel nightmares and he has the bravery to want to continue to talk about it. This shows that he has the level of compassion and maturity that this world needs right now.
It’s a very scary time and the future is uncertain. However, I never really felt afraid that this story was going to have anything but a happy ending. Danny is likable and Linda is lovable. It was hard to worry about our protagonists because they never became enough of their own antagonists. There was always a light at the end of the tunnel and this play could have easily had a much longer tunnel.
The fear that Danny will go off the deep end doesn’t feel justified because we see how easily he and Linda get through their problems. Linda and Danny need direction but worse people need saving. For example, Linda’s other son Ryan had a partner who helped him massacre fellow students and teachers. I’m curious to see how the other shooters family is coping. They are never talked about. Are they worse off? Maybe they are further down the rabbit hole I am seeking to explore. Danny just didn’t feel like Ryan and that’s what makes this play feel off to me.
There are still beautiful touching moments throughout. The final scene ties a bow on it all when we the audience become a memorial for the lost loved ones. Linda stands up in front and finally addresses the issues that have been weighing heavily on her and the town for the past 25 years. Needless to say a bunch of audience members left wiping tears from their eyes. It took a while to get there but Linda did it, both for the sake of her family and the show.
Performances: August 25 – September 10
Wednesday at 8 p.m.: Aug. 23 ONLY (preview)• Thursdays at 8 p.m.: Aug. 24 (preview), Aug. 31, Sept. 7
• Fridays at 8 p.m.: Aug. 25 (Opening Night), Sept. 1, Sept. 8
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Aug. 26, Sept. 2, Sept. 9
• Sundays at 2 p.m.: Aug. 27, Sept. 3, Sept. 10
WHERE:INTERNATIONAL CITY THEATRE
Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center
330 East Seaside Way
Long Beach, CA 90802
• Opening Night (Aug. 25): $55 (includes post-show reception with the actors)
• Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (except Friday, Aug. 25): $49
• Sunday matinees: $52
• Previews: $37
*caryn doesn’t capitalize her name and I love her for it.