The acclaimed play Exit Strategy has just made its West Coast debut at the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Davidson/Valentini Theatre after successful runs Off-Broadway and in Chicago.
The comedy-drama tells the story of a struggling urban high school in Chicago slated for closure. The fast-paced production runs 95 minutes with no intermission.
“There’s something cathartic about going into a small room with a bunch of people and laughing your ass off for 95 minutes,” says cast member Adam Silver who co-produces the play with Jon Imparato. “You feel the pain of these characters but you also laugh, which I think is kind of a gift in this time we live in. We need that escape.”
Exit Strategy, directed by Deena Selenow, is fictional but based on the reality of schools in urban areas that are under-funded, suffer from low test scores and other unfavorable conditions.
“It is inadvertently about Black Lives Matter,’ Imparato says, referring to the activist campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people. “It’s happening across the country to schools in low-income areas. I think it’s really an important story with a really important message.”
The play takes place over a year in the life of some teachers, students and administrators at the high school.
“In the first scene at the beginning of the school year, they find out the school is closing,” explains Silver. “The play tracks that year and each season is its own scene. You watch these people fight against the system in this play and what goes down in that year.”
Silver plays the school’s gay vice principal who is in a relationship with one of the male teachers.
“It’s definitely a queer piece,” he says. “It tracks that relationship and how the decay of the school is mirrored in their relationship and how it gets between what they have going on.”
Exit Strategy was written by Ike Holder, the rising Chicago playwright whose Hit the Wall musical about the Stonewall Riots was a smash at the Davidson/Valentini two years ago. That show, originally scheduled for six weeks, ran to sellout audiences for six months.
“Like with any Ike Holter piece, all of the characters are sort of outsiders,” Silver explains. “He writes about anti-heroes, ragtag people who are sort of against unwinnable odds. That’s a trajectory the queer community certainly aligns with. Ike is a queer playwright and I think he writes from that perspective. I think inherently his work is queer because he happens to be queer and he writes from that perspective.”
He adds: “Like in Hit the Wall, this group of people don’t want to align but realize they have to if they want to fight the system. It’s a story LGBT people will really connect with. It’s part of our daily lives.”
For this production, the intimate Davidson/Valentini has been re-imagined with 50 seats surrounding the stage for a theater in-the-round experience.
“It’s like watching a boxing match with the ring in the middle,” Silver says. “You are just feet from the actors and it’s like you’re on a roller coaster. The intimacy allows you to go on that ride.
Imparato points out that buying tickets to Center productions at the 200-seat Renberg Theatre or the smaller Davidson/Valentini are a way of giving back to the community.
“One-hundred percent of the net proceeds go to our homeless LGBT youth programs,” says Imparato, the Center’s Director of Cultural Arts & Education. “So you are not only seeing a play, you are paying it forward.”
The Davidson/Valentini Theatre is located inside the Center’s The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place, Hollywood. Exit Strategy runs through November 4 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 7 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased by calling (323) 860-7300 or at www.lalgbtcenter.org/theatre.