An abusive husband; a timid housewife; a Shakespeare-loving stripper; a bear: these are the building blocks on which "Exit, Pursued by Bear", the latest production from acclaimed Austin company Capital T Theatre are built. The play, written by Lauren Gunderson, follows a young woman named Nan, who, after taking too much abuse from her husband, decides to get a bit of revenge, and with the help of her two friends, the aforementioned Shakespeare-loving stripper-cum-actress Sweetheart, and cheer uniform-adorned gay friend Simon, decide to tie her husband to a chair and leave him out for the bears. What follows is a hilarious, tight, and at times quite romantic look at modern love, and how even the most hardened beasts can still have a little bit of warmth on the inside.
Though she has been acting for several years in the Austin scene, Molly Karrasch has stepped into the spotlight this year, wowing audiences earlier this year in Hyde Park Theatre's Tigers Be Still, and here she continues her run as worried, sentimental young house wife, Nan, who, after being put through the ringer by her abusive husband, determines the only way she will ever find peace is by killing him. One of Karrasch's true strengths if she brings a healthy mix of awkwardness and sensitivity to her performances, making it difficult not to fall in love with her no matter who she is playing. Here these qualities serve her extremely well, as the softness and sincerity of the character is allowed to shine through even as the supporting characters push her to what could be an extremely violent act. She also shows amazing chemistry with her husband, Kyle, played with amusing charm by Joey Hood, displaying what seems to be real affection for this man who has done so many horrible things to her.
While the two leads perform admirably, the play really belongs to the play's two supporting acts, Indigo Rael and Stephen Mercantel. Most people will know Mercantel from his solemn, neurotic performances in pieces such as Sick and Body Awareness, but here he shows real range to play the flamboyantly gay Simon. Though he may tip-toe into cliché at moments, he's always a delight to watch as he prances around stage, even at his most menacing moments. His chemistry with Rael's Sweetheart is undeniable, and it's when the two take the stage together that things really begin to light up . Rael may be making her Austin stage debut in “Exit, Pursued By a Bear”, but with a performance as funny as Sweetheart, it's sure to be far from her last. She shows impeccable timing, and she is able to feed off the energy of each of the other actors with unique skill, and it also doesn't hurt that she's quite easy on the eyes as well.
With a rock solid cast, a swift running time, and a script that goes to some unexpected places, “Exit, Pursued by Bear” shows upward momentum for a company once thought to be at their pinnacle. If they can continue their current trajectory, it would be difficult to knock Capital T, and its director Mark Pickell, from the top of the Austin theatre scene.