Originally posted at Fort Worth Weekly.
When P.T. Barnum opened his museum in Lower Manhattan, he noticed that people were staying inside too long for his liking, so he posted signs that said, “This Way to the Egress.” Museumgoers who didn’t know that “egress” means “exit” went through a door and found themselves on the sidewalk, having to pay to go back in. (He was a slippery character, that Barnum.) Titling your stage play Egress is a risky ploy, inviting your audience to take a good, hard look at the theater’s exit signs. Melissa Crespo and Sarah Saltwick’s play, which is being put on by Amphibian Productions, is engaging enough to keep you from walking out early, though I can’t say I’m compelled to come back.
The play begins with the main character (Jessica Vera) informing you that she is you, a New York architect who has taken a job teaching a college course in New Jersey. Like Jesse Eisenberg’s character in Zombieland, you’re obsessed with exits. Your specialty is placing exits in rooms and buildings, imagining how to efficiently move people out of places in emergencies. It comes out that your ex-boyfriend back in the city is accused of a serious crime. Your testimony could potentially put him away, which is probably why he’s sending you flowers and trying to call you. You’re having trouble sleeping and considering buying a gun, for which I can’t really blame you.
The show’s second-person perspective is an attempt to bring home the fears of a woman who’s on the run, but the play doesn’t work on that visceral level because that ex never seems like a threat because he’s never actually near the main character. Having the same actor (Garret Storms) portray that ex and all the men in the main character’s life is a wasted opportunity to show her fear extending to men who are not out to do her harm. The climactic nightmare sequence is a gambit that falls flat as well. A good production of Frederick Knott’s play Wait Until Dark, trashy and gimmicky as it is, does much better at capturing the terror of a woman being stalked by bad men.
Better material in the play comes when the protagonist tries to use her knowledge of architecture to cope with her predicament. When she hears strange noises in her new house, she remembers all the ways that houses can settle. Her classroom lectures talk about structures with a plethora of doors (the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose) and historical events that hinged on where the exits were (the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, the UT clock tower shooting). She’s relegated to a windowless office that other characters compare to a prison cell, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of the windowless dorm designed by a billionaire dilettante for UC-Santa Barbara.
There is also stuff here about guns, which turns out to be less effective, though I suppose someone will take the play’s point that having a gun makes its owner feel safer while actually putting that person at greater risk. Storms and Sky Williams portray all the men and women, respectively, in the main character’s life, and Storms is particularly good at switching between that malevolent ex, a knucklehead student, a potential date, and a friendly, casually sexist Facebook gun salesman (even if he doesn’t sound like a New Hampshirite). Vera, too, does well with the play’s overtly emotional stretches. There are some good ideas in Egress, just not enough to add up to a moving dramatic experience as you leave the theater.