Theater Spotlight: Exit Strategy

James (Charles Nolte) and Mae (Shirley Venard) return from a reconnaissance mission in <i>Exit Strategy</i>

James (Charles Nolte) and Mae (Shirley Venard) return from a reconnaissance mission in Exit Strategy

Cricket Productions; at Mixed Blood Theatre through May 4

Our culture's head is pretty well lodged in the sand so far as matters of aging and death are concerned, though it's a charge that certainly can't be leveled at Exit Strategy—whose three actors boast a combined age of 227. The action takes place in the common room at the Penley, a run-down hotel for seniors on fixed incomes. In the early going, we get a rather dreary picture of their golden years: Mae (Shirley Jean Venard) returns from a long slog in the rain she endured to save a few bucks on her prescriptions, and she and James (Charles Nolte) bicker over the thermostat while vegging out to the TV. Matters get even worse when the pair receives news that their hotel is going to be shut down, though they get an infusion of fresh blood with the arrival of Alex (Bill Semans), a comparative whippersnapper who tries to get his ossified compatriots to take more of an interest in life. Any thought that the script, penned by Semans and Roy M. Close, is going to be a clichéd take on getting old is summarily banished when James returns home in tears. It seems the old boy was out at a bar getting loaded and hitting on a younger man when the situation deteriorated (led to his bed, in tears, Nolte's James blubbers his fear that he's "sucked [his] last cock"). Pretty soon Alex lays out his real reason for staying at the Penley—he plans a heist at a document archive next door and wants to enlist James and Mae as accomplices in exchange for some much-needed dough. Semans is laconic and reserved in his role, and it's hard to get a read on his character (arguably, a necessary effect), though Venard and Nolte work up powerful chemistry between their smart, witty, and near-hopeless characters. Finally, when all involved take a crack at mainlining life's electricity together, we work up to a nicely rendered conclusion that avoids sentimentality.

It might seem like a novelty, this show put together by seniors, but it holds together on its own merits as a work of theater, and it digs with grace and acuity into the question of where we plot our course when we live long enough to just about run out of options.