It's safe to say you won't see a more funny or satisfying play about (well, loosely about) existential angst and a school shooting than Salt Lake Acting Company's latest production, The Exit Interview.
Penned by William Missouri Downs and a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, The Exit Interview lets the audience know right away that this is no straightforward play, thanks to the two cheerleaders who take the stage and deliver a jolt of energy and a laundry list of topics tackled in the following 100-or-so minutes that might offend audience members--everything from theological arguments to the biases of Fox News.
It's a hilarious and unexpected beginning to a show that evolves into an offbeat exercise in the theatrical "alienation effect" championed by Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright and director who entrances the play's Dick Fig (Darrin Doman), an academic losing his job and undergoing an exit interview as the show begins. Fig's skeptical mind and inability to suffer through idle chit-chat has cost him his girlfriend just as his career is collapsing, and the woman doing his exit interview, Eunice (Nell Gwynn), engages Fig in a cat-and-mouse conversation that forces Fig to uncomfortably confront both her faith in God, and her desire to talk about the weather.
Then the shooting starts.
It's a jarring juxtaposition when gunfire cracks through the entertaining banter, launching The Exit Interview into exciting, surreal tangents that would make Brecht proud. Four actors--Marin Kohler, Cassandra Stokes-Wylie, Bijan Hosseini and Terence Goodman--play multiple parts in scenes that offer comic relief and philosophical musings outside the storage room where Fig and Eunice are hiding from the shooter moving across campus.
Goodman is particularly strong as a Fox News reporter trying to go national with the school-shooting story, even though the only question he seems to want answered from those he interviews is, "What do you think God's plan is for you?" Goodman is also involved, along with Stokes-Wylie, in an excellent exchange between rival scientists, while Hosseini and Kohler engage in another "play within the play," acting as the head of the Mormon and Lutheran churches who start a debate on their respective faiths, only to have that debate end in surprising, decisive fashion.
The cast at the final preview I saw was excellent all around, easily bouncing through the disparate scenes that Downs created for his play. Likewise, the behind-the-scenes folks had their hands full with this one compared to many productions, from the high number of costumes needed for the 20 or so characters played by the six actors, to the intricate sound and lighting work required, in addition to an ever-changing video screen overhead, introducing the scenes.
All together, the elements Downs brings together in The Exit Interview make for one of the more intriguing theater experiences you're likely to have, and you'll laugh throughout while you're left pondering several big issues. Can't ask for much more than that from SLAC's season finale.
The Exit Interview runs Wednesdays through Sundays until May 5. Tickets and showtimes are available at the Salt Lake Acting Company Website.