On THE EXIT INTERVIEW by William Missouri Downs
Submitted by jojoruf on
Reprinted with permission from THE WORD.
In the fall of 2009 I was flipping through channels when I saw a report about a baby carriage falling under a commuter train and the baby surviving with only a few scratches. For days after, cable news recycled the baby/train video while bubbly anchors gave the standard metaphysical answers, “God had a purpose for the baby,” and “It was a miracle.” But I began wondering about babies who weren’t so lucky. In an obscure academic safety periodical, I found a report that stated on average five babies are killed each year when their strollers fall from station platforms and are struck by commuter trains. That video and report were the sparks that ignited The Exit Interview.
(You can find the same baby/train video on YouTube – type in the words, “baby falls under train and survives.”)
In my opinion most modern plays make few philosophical statements. Playwrights concentrate on emotion and story but go light on theme. In his book Religion for Atheists Alain de Botton states, “We are fatefully in love with ambiguity, uncritical of the Modernist doctrine that great art should have no moral content or desire to change its audience.” After reading this I knew The Exit Interview would have to be a philosophical comedy.
We live in a world full of received wisdom – metaphysical answers, stories and themes that we seldom question. If I were to ask people on the street how many senses there are, the vast majority would answer “five” (sight, sound, touch, taste and smell). But what about the sense of balance? We even call it a “sense” and yet we don’t include it – and if you are thinking that balance is just a variation on touch then you must call all the senses variations on touch. Our world is full of standardized answers to standardized questions. This goes for everything from the meaning of life to why once in a great while a baby survives a train.
The Exit Interview is a didactic comedy; it states its philosophies boldly, just as Bertolt Brecht did. It does this because the theatre needs to fight against received wisdom and those who think that art no longer needs moral content.
The theatre also needs to eliminate what I call shadow productions – productions that are cookie cutter copies of previous productions. Too often today going to the theatre is like watching Casablanca over and over – each showing is the same as it was in 1942. Theatre must celebrate that it is not film. Every production should be unique to that city, that theatre, that night. When I learned that six NNPN theatres were staging a rolling opening of The Exit Interview I resolved to adjust the script to meet the needs of each director, each theatre, and each audience.
A few winters back while driving here in Wyoming I hit black ice. The car fishtailed before flying off the freeway at 75 miles an hour. The rollover into a rocky precipice was so violent that it ripped the axles out of the transmission, but, like the baby, I walked away with a few scratches. A friend said, “You must thank God for saving you.” I answered—. Wait, if you want to know my answer, come see The Exit Interview.
The Exit Interview has its Rolling World Premiere at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, San Diego REP, Actor's Theatre of Charlotte, InterAct Theatre Company, Riverside Theatre, and Salt Lake Acting Company.