Saturday, September 7, 2019

Rundown school faces closure in 'Exit Strategy' at Aurora

Margo Hall as Pam confronts Michael J. Asberry as Arnold in the teachers lunchroom.
In a scenario that’s becoming all too familiar in underfunded school districts across the county, a crumbling high school in a rundown Chicago neighborhood is slated for closure and demolition immediately after the last day of the current school year.

That’s the premise of Ike Holter’s “Exit Strategy,” presented by Aurora Theatre Company.

In this fictional school, the teachers must buy their own supplies. Its only administrator, so it seems, is the vice principal, Ricky (Adam Niemann). Only 30 years old, he’s in over his head when dealing with the teachers.

They include the older, more experienced Pam (Margo Hall) and Arnold (Michael J. Asberry,) who’s also the union rep.

Closer to Ricky in age are Jania (Gabriella Fanuele), Sadie (Sam Jackson) and Luce (Ed Gonzalez Moreno), Ricky’s boyfriend.

They all seem resigned to the school’s fate until a savvy black senior, Donnie (Tre’Vonne Bell), galvanizes them and other students into action designed to resist the closure.

Although the situation is realistic, several factors undermine its effectiveness.

First is the play itself, in which some characters, such as Donnie, are stereotyped. Then there’s the direction by Aurora’s new artistic director, Josh Costello. He allows too much yelling and hyperactivity.

Gabriella Fanuele is Jania and Adam Niemann is Ricky.
This is especially true of Niemann’s Ricky, whose performance is often so high-pitched, even hysterical, that there’s no room for subtlety or introspection.

That’s in sharp contrast to the far more grounded characterizations by Hall as Pam and Asberry as Arnold. 

The flexible set is by Kate Boyd, with lighting by Stephanie Anne Johnson, sound by James Ard and costumes by Maggie Whitaker.

Running about an hour and 45 minutes with no intermission, “Exit Strategy” will continue through Sept. 29 at Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison St, Berkeley.

For tickets and information, call (510) 843-4822 or visit

Photos by David Allen