How fortunate are LA audiences that International City Theatre (ICT) in Long Beach is staging the world premiere of award-winning playwright Wendy Graf’s riveting drama “Exit Wounds,” through Sept. 10. A poignant, multi-perspective take on one family involved in a mass shooting, the play is both timely and engaging—truly must-see theatre that speaks not only to today’s headlines but the timeless ways families get ripped apart.
Expertly directed by ICT Artistic Director caryn desai [sic], three actors bring to believable life their challenged characters. Linda (Suanne Spoke) is a soft, post-middle-aged woman in a bathrobe (costumes by Kimberly DeShazo), chain-smoking in front of a television and surrounded by boxes of paraphernalia, stacks of old newspapers, piles of clothes in a laundry basket—and not a family photo in sight.
We might be turned off by such a woman, especially as she reacts coldly to her estranged son Matt (Michael Polak) when he appears at her door after decades of absence. But Spoke imbues her character with such quiet intelligence, wit and vulnerability that we can’t help but empathize with her as the play unfolds.
Polak plays Matt with similar sincerity as his character insists on entering his childhood home unannounced after so many years and throwing out an old birdcage atop piles of his mother’s stuff while clueing her in about his wife and two teen children. But one of them—17-year-old son Danny (Hayden Kharrazi)—has Matt at wits end over the boy’s ominous and increasingly violent behavior.
Danny himself soon arrives at the home under the premise of community service—helping Linda clean out her home, unaware she is his grandmother—instead of doing jailtime for a school crime. And Kharrazi is exceptionally natural as the lanky, black-hoodied teen, making his and Linda's interactions a pleasure to watch.
But as Danny sorts through Linda's old record collection, ties up old newspaper piles and helps her throw out mice-ridden garbage, we see there’s more to him than his father let on. Though acerbic and obsessed with guns, Danny is smart, thoughtful and musically talented.
Getting that alternate perspective of Danny—so different from what we expect based on Matt’s description—is structurally similar to the perspective the play slowly reveals about Linda’s other son, Ryan, and the horrific part he played in a school shooting 25 years prior that subsequently blew up her family.
Dealing with the aftermath of exposed family secrets and putting its fragmented pieces back together seems like a tall order, but that is the play’s aim. Graf notes that “Exit Wounds” is not about guns but how “we all come from scarred families learning to heal” like a broken vase.
The play ultimately reaches for an even larger perspective suggesting that healing of all kinds might be possible with time. Regardless of whether that’s realistic for all families (or for all unspeakable events), the resolution is certainly touching as each character tenderly exposes their wounded heart, especially the ravaged Linda.
Tightly written and directed, with excellent acting and an impressively detailed shabby set (designed by Yuri Okahana-Benson, lighting by Donna Ruzika), “Exit Wounds” is that rare play that provokes, moves and entertains all at once. You would be remiss to miss this timely world premiere staged practically in your backyard. But hurry before it closes next weekend!
International City Theatre’s “Exit Wounds” continues through Sept. 10 at the Beverly O’Neill Theater, 330 E. Seaside Way, Long Beach, with shows Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $49 to $52 and can be purchased by calling (562) 436-4610 or visiting ICTLongBeach.org. Run time is 100 minutes with no intermission.