Arts and Entertainment

Exit Fear, Enter Truth: ‘Last Exit’ opens at Whidbey Children’s Theater in Langley

Thunder Woodworth as Calvin and Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews as Turner are two of the 20 actors getting ready to open
Thunder Woodworth as Calvin and Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews as Turner are two of the 20 actors getting ready to open 'Last Exit,' a play about teenage suicide at Whidbey Children's Theater May 22 through June 7.
— image credit: Patricia Duff / The Record

Little though it may be, Langley has a healthy finger on the pulse of the American theater.

The next play on at Whidbey Children’s Theater is “Last Exit,” featuring a cast of

20 local high school students. The play takes a square-in-the-face look at the often hushed-up but insidious subject of teen suicide.

It opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 22 and runs through Sunday, June 7.

The play, which also includes music, was created in 2004 by a group of students involved in Issaquah’s Village Theatre program, KIDSTAGE.

The writing team at KIDSTAGE was mentored by theater professional Brian Yorkey, who recently was nominated for 11 Tony awards for his Broadway hit “Next to Normal.” With Yorkey’s help, the book and lyrics have been carefully edited to make it the up-to-date, sharp-witted piece it is today.

The Village Theatre has produced the play several times, but until now has never given the rights to any other company.

“Last Exit” is a play that strives to depict the teen experience honestly and authentically. One goal of the local production is to provoke discussion among teens and to move them toward a deeper understanding of depression and suicide and, ultimately, to make the right choices.

Producer Barbara Walker was so moved by “Last Exit” when she saw it five years ago, she was determined to bring the play to WCT with Kirkland’s Studio East’s artistic director Lani Brockman as director.

“It is important for us to occasionally move beyond sheer entertainment to explore serious issues facing children, teens and our society at large,” Walker said.

Brockman, who directed “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” for WCT two years ago, felt the Whidbey community was the right place to produce it.

“It’s a pretty powerful and very interesting piece, and these kids are really into it,” Brockman said.

“Last Exit” follows a group of students on a school trip to New York City, far from the structure of regular school life.

But when it ends in tragedy, the students gather a few weeks later trying to sort out what happened.

They struggle to remember what they missed, to recall the signs of what their suicidal friend was feeling. In the course of their meeting, the students come to terms with their own conflicted emotions about suicide and take action against what they now know can be avoided a second time with others.

“Last Exit” doesn’t attempt to candy-coat suicide.

“It’s a delicate theme, but it is what is,” Brockman said.

“As you journey through the play, you see all the signs that the kids didn’t see about Caius (the boy that kills himself) and his depression.”

But, like every good play, “Last Exit” reveals dimensions and depicts those moments that allow the audience to see more than just the somber side of these characters, Brockman said.

“It’s funny. Just like life, it’s a serious piece, but has the moments that make us laugh.”

One of those moments in particular happens during a song in the play called “The Last Remaining Virgin,” sung by a young man in the cast. It’s a good moment of relief, Brockman said.

Flashbacks are also used to good effect, allowing the audience to experience the thoughts and feelings of the boy who kills himself before he takes his own life.

The set is spare and uses slides projected on two screens that surround the actors and carry the audience to the various scenes in New York and elsewhere.

This spareness, Brockman said, also lends itself to pinpointing the crucial emotional life of the piece.

“Teen suicide is so taboo, but here the subject is given voice by teens for teens,” she added.

Walker stressed the idea that those voices are integral to the education that WCT seeks to achieve by presenting “Last Exit.”

To that end, the theater will provide trained adult professionals for post-performance discussions with the audience, as well as lending their support to the young cast during rehearsals and throughout the production season.

Some themes for discussion include self-image versus the image one projects to the world, teen depression and suicide, conformity versus rebellion and personal integrity.

The producers of “Last Exit” warn parents that the play is not for children 13 or younger.

Though the language and content of the play are treated with respect and humor, they are also realistic in order to tell a story that is both truthful and compelling, the director noted.

“There are so many warning signs of suicide,” Brockman said. “But if we are not educated, we miss being able to help someone who is depressed.”

The cast of “Last Exit” includes Zach Barr, Ethan Berkley, Allie Firth, Nicole Fjelsted, Sommer Harris, Dinah Hassrick, Kim McLean, Athena Michaelides, Jennifer Davenport, Eric Sundquist, Eric Vanderbilt-Mathews, April Wilhelm, Thunder Woodworth, Jenny Zisette and Gina Knox.

The show is produced by Walker, directed by Brockman, with Erick Westphal as assistant director and Linda McLean as its musical director.

Performances are 7:30 p.m. May 22, 23, 29, 30 and June 5 and 6, and at 2 p.m. May 24, 31 and June 7.

For tickets call 221-2282.

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