Review: You Should Definitely Seek Out "Desperately Seeking the Exit: Online Live"

Desperately Seeking the Exit: Online Live

Written and performed by Peter Michael Marino

Original direction by John Clancy

Presented via Zoom

See the show's website for upcoming dates and tickets

Photo credit: David Rodgers

Have you ever wondered about the drama behind a drama, the ways in which something like a large-scale theatrical performance comes together—or doesn't? If you have, then Desperately Seeking the Exit, with its inside look at the pinnacles and pitfalls of this process, is for you. If you haven't, then Desperately Seeking the Exit is for you as well because it is a wildly entertaining piece of storytelling. This one-man show, written and performed by Peter Michael Marino, recounts the rocky journey of the short-lived musical that Marino wrote based on the 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan, from its inception to its opening night and beyond. Desperately Seeking the Exit is partly a behind-the-scenes show-biz story, partly a fish-out-of-cultural-water tale, and wholly fascinating and funny.

As with much of our current living-at-a-distance, the show takes place via Zoom, and while the audience waits for the performance to begin, a trailer for the film Susan alternates with directions for being a good Zoom-theater audience and promotional interviews for the musical. Things officially get underway with a very cool pre-recorded introductory sequence that swoops down from a flying saucer-eye's view through the city into the performance space, a.k.a. Marino's apartment. Marino's musical ends up being contractually obligated to premiere in London, and he establishes himself early on as having been a "raging Anglo-holic" since he was a kid (with many childhood Saturday nights spent adjusting aluminum foil on tv antennas to watch old Brit-com and Doctor Who episodes on PBS, these reviewers can relate). But before we get to London, he takes us back to the summer of 2005, when, looking for a change of direction after a stint in Stomp, he and a friend light upon the idea to write a new musical combining an adaptation of Desperately Seeking Susan with the music of Blondie. Despite Marino's being a novice writer of musicals, the pitch is picked up, generating a lot of interest, enthusiasm, and expectations, and kicks off an extended journey that throws up obstacles involving not only personnel, music rights, differing visions, and plenty of notes but also cultural barriers (Port Authority, for instance, does not translate to the U.K., but neither, more surprisingly, does "pot"), complicated for Marino during one stretch by some problems of a more personal nature. All of this leads up to the musical's 2007 opening—and closing—and Marino takes the audience through the life cycle of what he at one point calls this "dying baby," including an extremely unexpected coda, with irresistible élan and a short Q&A session as a chaser.

Marino is a skilled and spirited storyteller, and his ebullience, enhanced with brief but effective flourishes of physical performance, makes a great fit for the (pseudo-?)intimate Zoom environment. The show itself is witty and full of vivid, observant detail and plenty of laugh-out-loud lines, but it also does not shy away from emotional honesty, touching on, for example, the emotional whiplash that can come with opening a production and the psychological toll that can accompany failure when it is not a matter only of art but also of the incomes of a significant number of people. As a bonus, its evocation of resilience and reinvention, both narratively and metatextually, certainly resonates with our current moment. Desperately Seeking the Exit: Online Live fashions captivating comedy from the collaborative creative process: find your way to this Exit as soon as possible.

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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