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Best written reviews for “Exit, Pursued by a Bear” performed by H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program in Arlington, Virginia. Reviewed on February 18, 2022.

Audrey Link

McLean High School


"And everything ends happily. Unless you're the guy that gets eaten by the bear." At first glance, this sums up the plot of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program's production of "Exit, Pursued by a Bear." Compelling, right? But a deeper dive into this enthralling and educational tale proves that this story is in fact one of powerful friendships, finding the inner strength to stand up for oneself, and most importantly, female empowerment.


Written by playwright Lauren Gunderson, "Exit, Pursued by a Bear" was originally published in 2011. The piece gets its name from a stage direction written by William Shakespeare in "The Winter's Tale," which is famous for its amusing candor and difficulty to stage. Gunderson's work follows the story of Nan, a southern housewife who will no longer stay quiet and stand her husband's abuse. Therefore, she decides to duct tape her husband, Kyle, to a chair and force him to watch her reenact scenes from their past. In these reenactments, Nan enlists the help of Simon, her best friend and personal cheerleader, and Sweetheart, another close friend and aspiring actress. Through their carefully crafted performances, Nan and her friends are determined to teach Kyle a lesson and make him see the error of his ways.


Rebecca Walyus portrayed Nan and had the challenging role of taking on a character who experiences a rollercoaster of emotions in just one act, a challenge which she executed beautifully. Walyus embodied the character of Nan in such a natural way that the audience immediately trusted her, even after hearing her bold plan to unleash a bear upon her husband. Daniel Gessel was the passionate actor who played said husband, and although this character was destined to be hated from the beginning, Gessel was able to show a more vulnerable side of Kyle that allowed the audience to see where his abusive ways stemmed from.


Cady Carr brought a touching sincerity to the character of Sweetheart, as it was evident how much she really cared about Nan. Carr's bright light of comedy in this otherwise dark tale made her an audience favorite. Last but certainly not least was the character of Simon, portrayed by the charismatic Auggie McDonald. He was the refreshing voice of reason at times, but ultimately just wanted the best for Nan. McDonald brought playful energy to the stage and, like the rest of the cast, had great comedic timing.


As for the technical aspects of this production, the most impressive were the projections of stage directions on an expansive screen in the middle of the set, acting as almost a silent narrator. Designed by Mary Katherine Musick, these projections kept the audience engaged and helped them understand the actors' movements. The projection screen was also largely complimented by the immersive set, which was designed and constructed by Maddox Kromash. The set outlined the living room and kitchen of Nan and Kyle's house in which the entire play took place and included many details from hunting guns hanging on the walls to a picture of penguins on the fridge, making the world of the play seem even more realistic.


Despite its description as a dark revenge comedy, at the heart of H-B Woodlawn's "Exit, Pursued by a Bear" was the inspiring story of a young woman who broke free of a harmful relationship and learned that only she can determine her future with the power of her own voice, her two best friends, and a bear.

Miya Livingston

Dominion High School


What do baby penguins, Jimmy Carter, and Shakespeare's bizarre stage directions have in common? You'll have to ask H-B Woodlawn's theater department. After a successful run of Lauren Gunderson's 2011 one-act revenge comedy "Exit, Pursued by a Bear", the student-directed group of Alexandria teens-- with just 4 cast and 9 crew among them-- has proved their artistry in conquering the onerous challenge of juxtaposing underlying dark themes with political one-liners and slapstick humor, effectively providing a night of laughter for the audience and raising awareness for domestic abuse in the process.


Gunderson's play, set in modern day Georgia, tells the story of Nan Carter, animal-lover and victim of domestic violence, as she confronts her abusive husband Kyle for the first and last time. Aided in her cause by dramatic performances from the thespian stripper Sweetheart and emotional support from her flamboyant best friend Simon, Nan presents Kyle with reenactments of each event that led their marriage awry, before leaving him as a defenseless entree for the infamous bears of the North Georgia woodlands (incapacitated under a mountain of raw venison and honey) once and for all.


Through a consistent combination of tactful tone and body language, Nan Carter (Rebecca Walyus) battled a spectrum of emotions for all the audience to see. Walyus sensationally portrayed Nan's precarious wavering between enraged vengefulness and tender sentiment for happier memories in such a captivating, grounded way that the audience couldn't help but witness her murderous intent and agree mirthfully, "Good for her."


Kyle Carter (Daniel Gessel), too, fulfilled many different tropes of varying agreeability, from explicit bigotry to awkward young ignorance and gaslighting arguments in his favor that were, at times, on the verge of winning Nan and the audience over. Even with Kyle's vile behavior, Gessel's comedic timing successfully elicited several laughs from the audience, while his range left each patron to question their own moral stance on the character-- the work of a profound actor, indeed.


Simon Beaufort (Auggie McDonald) wore an ostentatious red cheerleader get-up, the only item in sight breaking the muted rustic color scheme, that served well in summarizing his role in the story: he's a little confused, but he's got the spirit. Playing the voice of reason, McDonald's nuanced expressions demonstrated his understandable turmoil between a desire to support his best friend and his basic human morals; in effect, Simon's character, despite being the most camp and outlandish, was the most realistic and reasonable by far. And Sweetheart (Cady Carr) had no easy task, being charged with playing the roles of 3 of 4 characters present in various scenes throughout the show. Carr rose to the occasion with distinct body language and expression to mimic each character she portrayed.


The success of the production equally owed itself to the behind-the-scenes work of the student directors and stage crew. Under the direction of Carly Cameron, the crew flawlessly delivered crisp sound and lighting throughout the black box, with simple but purposeful props (Emma Hogan) and set (Maddox Kromash), all with an endearingly homemade feel. The projector screen overlooking the set showed various video clips and headings throughout the play, clarified scenes for the audience, and added a deadpan element to the overall humorous effect of the performance.


After watching the delightful rendition of Gunderson's one-act play, patrons left the night at H-B Woodlawn in joyful chatter. The 15 high schoolers behind the school's production of "Exit, Pursued by a Bear" used their success in presenting a harmonic tragicomedy and donated part of their proceeds to My Sister's Place, an organization dedicated to ending domestic violence


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