OLT's 'Exit, Pursued by a Bear' has humor, but also deals with domestic violence

Contributing writerMay 2, 2014 

Toni Holm wanted to direct “Exit, Pursued by a Bear,” opening tonight at Olympia Little Theatre, because she knows the complex realities of abusive relationships.

She also wanted to direct it because it’s so funny.

“When I read the play, I laughed,” said Holm, who worked for 10 years at SafePlace, a shelter and advocacy agency for survivors of domestic violence in Olympia. “Then I thought, ‘Why are you laughing about this? It’s a serious subject,’ and I realized it just rang true with real life.

“Sometimes humor is the way we deal with awful things.”

What playwright Lauren Gunderson calls a “Southern revenge comedy” centers on Nan, who is tired of being abused and takes matters into her own hands, duct-taping her husband, Kyle, to a recliner, smearing him with honey, surrounding him with venison, and threatening to leave him to the bears.

“The playwright wrote that this is ‘a moral tale told with no morals,’” Holm said.

It is every bit as outlandish as it sounds — especially considering that the friends helping Nan with her plot are both larger than life: Sweetheart, a stripper and aspiring actress; and Simon, a gay man who’s been her best friend since they met in drama club in junior high school.

“Gunderson’s dialogue is often laugh-out-loud funny, particularly around Nan’s sidekicks,” Terry Byrne wrote in a 2013 Boston Globe review of a production in Charlestown, Mass. “But underneath the humor, Nan does talk about Kyle’s shocking physical abuse, and Gunderson slips in lines that reveal Nan’s heartbreak, disappointment and the courage it takes to leave.”

Holm said she appreciated the play’s look at the realities of domestic violence as she experienced them while working at SafePlace, first as a volunteer and later on the staff. “The story is not all black and white,” she said. “Nobody is perfect.

“One of the things you learn is that people wouldn’t pick partners who are jerks,” she added. “People who abuse are really charming and nice and really good at apologizing and making it OK until they do it again.”

Kyle, played by Jason Downer, is just such a complex character, though Gunderson leaves it up to the audience to decide whether he comes to understand the error of his ways.

And Nan, played by Nicole Galyean, doesn’t fit the stereotype of victim.

“The outside perception is that the woman is weak and the man is evil,” Holm said. “It’s more complicated than that. In casting my play, I wanted to get actors who could give a more nuanced picture than that.”

The title of the play comes from a stage direction in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” and the bard’s tale of loss and redemption definitely inspired Gunderson’s play.

“There are parallels between Kyle and the king,” Holm said.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear

What: Olympia Little Theatre presents Lauren Gunderson’s very dark comedy about a woman who decides to take revenge on her abusive husband.

When: 7:55 p.m. Friday, May 2, and Saturday plus May 8-10 and 15-17; matinees at 1:55 p.m. May 11 and 18.

Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $12-$14 at olympialittletheatre.org, at Yenney Music, and at the door

More information: 360-786-9484 or olympialittletheatre.org

Also: The show includes explicit language and is recommended for adults only.

SafePlace benefit

What: Enjoy hors d’oeuvres and chocolate before this benefit performance of “Exit, Pursued by a Bear.” All proceeds will benefit SafePlace, a nonprofit shelter and advocacy agency for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Thurston County.

When: Doors open at 6:45 p.m. May 18; show begins at 7:55 p.m.

Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia

Tickets: $25

More information: 360-786-8754 or safeplaceolympia.org

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