BWW Review: EXIT 27 - Brilliantly Thought-Provoking

EXIT 27 by Aleks Merilo, produced by Southwest Theatre Productions at the Boyd Vance Theatre is a fascinating study in mind control and the effects of cult religion on the innocent.
The play begins in the desert shack inhabited by Ryker (Thomas Burke), Dodge (Nathaneal Dunaway), Shyler (Sam Stinson) and Brodie (Sam Domino). We learn that each of the young men has been abandoned by their parents, friends and the religious community who raised them, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), an extremist Mormon sect. Based on real circumstances, EXIT 27 seeks to expose the plight of the Lost Boys of Utah to a wider audience by highlighting mind control tactics used on vulnerable children by those they trust the most. Polygamy is part of the basic power structure of the FLDS doctrine, the Mormon Church (LDS) abandoned polygamy in 1890, causing a split amongst its followers. The fundamentalist sect believe a man must have at least three wives to be guaranteed a place in heaven, having too many male children becomes a problem in biological math. To jettison unwanted boys, the sect leaders judge any infraction of the rules harshly. Watching a movie, listening to music or even daring to look at a girl is met with the ultimate punishment, banishment. Under educated, ignorant of even the most basic of survival skills they are cast into the wilderness with no resource but each other. One estimate states that between 300 and 1,000 young men were forced to leave the sect to reduce competition for wives since the year 2000. Merilo's deft playwriting shows us the desperation the boys feel and their willingness to do anything to regain their former lives. The Outsider (Lee Eden), a local girl, tries her best to befriend the teens, but they have been taught that people outside of the FLDS are an evil and corrupting force and they must avoid contact with strangers at all costs. The script is gripping and gives the audience just enough information to move the action along while keeping the suspense taut. Ryker is the spiritual leader of the group, who misses his sister desperately and fights his feelings of guilt over the sin he committed. The largest, most physical member of the group is Dodge who provides food by scavenging and trading with other Lost Boys groups. Shyler is the lookout who warns them of danger, he is the most childlike of the boys, needing comfort and approval from his friends. He is also the most fragile emotionally, one wonders how long he would survive without his compatriots. Newcomer to the band of brothers is Brodie, secrets and lies surround him. The boys are wary of the addition to their number, but soon find they admire him and trust him. When Ryker falls ill, the remaining teens scramble to be able to save his life. The view from their camp includes both their former home and the town of Hurricane where the 'Outsiders' live tempting them to a different life. It's the twisted logic of mind control tactics and the promise of heaven that lead the boys down a dark, emotional path.
The Southwest Theatre production is well cast and beautifully directed by Kat Sparks, who creates a solid ensemble. Every actor is powerful in their own way and commits fully to their character. Burke, Dunaway, Stinson and Domino all reveal their individuality in small, brilliant layers, never giving the audience a full look at themselves until the final, fateful moments of the play. Outstanding fight choreography conveys the violent nature of the boy's existence and is downright frightening to watch. Lighting designed by Amy Lewis is beautiful, stars appear as twilight fades and a darkness that brings a chill, foreboding air sets the mood perfectly. Production Designer, Wesley Riddles creates a homeless camp that is stark and rugged, gathering fragments of civilization scavenged by the rejected children in order to survive in a hostile environment. EXIT 27 makes for an affecting, heart wrenching and thought-provoking evening at the theatre. I look forward to more from these talented young actors and Southwest Theatre Productions.

EXIT 27 by Aleks Merilo, Southwest Theatre Productions
Boyd Vance Theatre, George Washington Carver Museum, 1165 Angelina Street, Austin
January 29, 30 & 31

RUNNING TIME: Approximately 2 hours with one intermission

TICKETS: $18 to $22

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From This Author Lynn Beaver