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Theater review: 'Exit Strategy' at the Falcon Theatre

October 29, 2009 |  5:30 pm

Exit.300There comes a time when impassioned discussions of philosophy, art, morality and other lofty themes give way to more mature topics -- namely, kvetching about ailments.

   Negotiating that stage of life in an unexpected -- and downright felonious -- manner is the premise of "Exit Strategy" at Burbank's Falcon Theatre. Tailor-made for seasoned character actors, this slight dramedy/heist caper by Bill Semans and Roy M. Close demands supremely charismatic performances to overcome its formulaic limitations. Unfortunately, it doesn't get them from this cast of film and TV veterans.

Set in a down-at-heels Midwest rooming house one month away from the wrecking ball, the story centers on the two remaining residents, clinging to fading dreams as they face the prospect of eviction. Property manager Mae (Debra Mooney), a survivor of multiple marriages, would like another shot at love. James (James B. Sikking), a gay Broadway has-been and disgraced college instructor, yearns for his glory days in the footlights. 

In the midst of this odd couple's comfy, well-worn bickering arrives a mysterious new lodger, Alex (John C. Moskoff), whose nicely played charm and affability seem a bit too good to be true. Mooney's Mae is an amiable if understated presence where a firecracker is needed, while Sikking seems unwilling to fully commit to the flamboyance of his character; his equivocation results in too many faltering line readings.

Turns out Alex is an ex-con bent on enlisting the elderly pair's help in a burglary. The paltry $1,000 he offers won't make a dent in their financial predicament, which is the play's point (reiterated multiple times): It's all about a shot at adventure at an age when life holds few opportunities.

The problem is, Alex only tips his hand at the end of the first act, after a meandering tour of failing libidos, prostates, bladders and other afflictions. Director Casey Stangl's leisurely pacing only makes the predictable checklist more interminable. The sheer numbness we feel at the familiar specter of nursing home care and other indignities awaiting the elderly is the play's most cutting -- if unintended -- indictment of our complacency and neglect.

   -- Philip Brandes

Photo: John C. Moskoff, James B. Sikking and Debra Mooney. Credit: Chelsea Sutton

"Exit Strategy," Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank. 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 15. $32.50-$40. (818) 955-8101. Running time: 2 hours.