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Writing for CurtainUp NYC Weather
|A CurtainUp Philadelphia Review
By Kathryn Osenlund
The exit wound is where I get the pain. It reminds me of my marriage. It sounds a little arrogant, but I can muck things up as well as God. --Mike
Exit Wounds, a world premiere production at the Arden Theatre, is made possible by the Independence Foundation New Play Showcase. Dennis Raymond Smeal re-wrote much of the play during two preliminary workshops at the Arden. Still, in reviews following the press opening critics tended to say that the play was not only wordy, but a "barrage of verbosity." By the time I caught the play during the middle of the run, it had been trimmed and toned. A two-hour play with a 15 minute intermission when it opened, it had been shaped into a 90 minute play with no intermission.
I had heard that the play was about a recently divorced male ex-lawyer who went into the pizza delivery career field. Director Terrence J. Nolen had pointed out, "Dennis himself was a lawyer who left his job to become a pizza delivery man and his work has an air of authenticity." So I had my expectations set for a brash and smart-alecky script, with maybe some kind of sophisticated yet put-women-down, lounge lizard humor thrown in. But it wasn't that way at all. The play has a lyric power that builds as it interweaves its own sort of poetry with literal, familiar touchstones and good laughs. It's a quality piece of work from the writing through the realization on stage.
Mike, the protagonist, addresses the audience in an extended monologue that lasts for the length of the play. It is, however, more like a conversation with the audience and Pete Pryor, as Mike, is very, very good at it. It is funny, but not in the way I had anticipated. The monologue/dialogue is weird and strange stuff mixed together with very real things that people think and say. If divorce statistics are accurate, there had to be a lot of divorced people in the full house, and there were zings that seemed to hit home. Like the ultra realistic, yet minimalist scene of the death of his marriage, in which the participants say disconnected things -- important things, and yet not enough, or not the right things, just as in life. In other commentary and vignettes Mike talks about pain and reflects on the influence of parents and the "simple clarity of guiltlessness." This may sound heavy-handed, but it doesn't come across that way. It's laugh-aloud funny, in a modern, painful sort of way.
Scenes from Mike's life are reenacted, like skits of his past, artfully arranged. Some are flashbacks of flashbacks. He comes and goes, sometimes like a "Ghost of Christmas Past," where the other participants can't see him, but usually as a full-fledged party to the action. A drawback of this style is that a monologue is, by its nature, wordy. A benefit is that the audience gets Mike's take on the incidents as he goes along. There are pizza delivery scenes, bar scenes, therapy scenes, losing-it-totally scenes, alternative scenes of what he says should have, but did not happen, and finally anticipation scenes as he walks us through his intentions and we see them play out.
In a pizza story we get a good dose of the old verbosity, but here at least it is contextual as Mike refuses to leave until a customer says she understands his point. He says, "She had to shoot me just to shut me up." In another scene a well-meaning friend sets him up with his ex wife. He touches on guilt from his lawyer days, spent defending some clients who were neither exemplary nor guiltless.
Pryor is supported by Howard Overshown, who shines as a colleague and as a therapist, among other roles. Mary Martello, while talented, seems much too young for the parts she plays. The lovely Megan Bellwoar plays Ellen, the ex.
The wonderfully spare and often empty set is just walls that at first resemble brushed steel and reflect different lights in interesting ways. These versatile walls are actually panels of sometimes transparent plastic, which allow for very clever scene shifts. Time/space truly flows in this play due to the direction and to the excellent work of James Kronzer, the scenic designer and Daniel Maclean Wagner, the lighting designer.
Exit Wounds is a dark play that hovers around the idea of light, a pre-occupation of Mike's. He is concerned about the stars and celestial light, the speed of light, constellations. He worries that when you look into the sky, you are looking into the past. Some of those stars may not be there anymore. Nothing is forever -- marriage, even stars. Light and stars also connect him to his young daughter, about whom he is very concerned. In the end when he says that some light filtered into the dark night, it is his own dark night which may finally be ending.