Black Box PAC in Englewood debuts Beth Henley’s ’90s-set ‘Exposed’

exposed henley review

PHOTOS BY FLORIAN WAHL

Ilana Schimmel, left, and Danielle MacMath co-star in “Exposed” at the Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood.

Having recently presented little-known works by well-known writers Eric Bogosian (“1+1”) and Paul Schrader (“The Cleopatra Club”), the Black Box Performing Arts Center in Englewood is continuing in that vein with Beth Henley’s “Exposed.” This is the first full production of the 2002 drama, in fact, though it previously had a workshop production in Poughkeepsie, in 2003.

Set in Los Angeles in the late 1990s, during a Winter Solstice, “Exposed” — directed, in Englewood, by Black Box founder Matt Okin — is a taut, grittily (and sometimes harshly) realistic tale of five people whose lives are interconnected in more ways than any one of them, individually, seems aware of.

Danielle MacMath plays Jane, who is living a kind of vapid, middle-class existence, perkily keeping up happy-family appearances even though she seems to feel little genuine connection to either her husband, Mike (Michael Gardiner), or their child. The biggest problem in her life, at first, seems to be picking the right holiday sweater to wear.

Mike, a somewhat high-strung reporter, is having an affair with Pye (Katie North), also a reporter, though Pye’s career has gone south, and she seems more interested in Mike for what he can do for her, professionally, than in his potential as a romantic counterpart. Pye also has a fear of the dark, and drinks a lot.

Ilana Schimmel plays Reb, a self-described “freak,” who displays great anxiety (obsessively tugging at clothes, talking out of the side of the mouth, overreacting to everything). Drug use, mental illness or some combination of both seems to be the cause. Reb meets Jane and the two hit it off, but it’s unclear whether Reb is trying to con her, or really feels a personal connection.

Katie North in “Exposed.”

The play’s fifth and least developed character is Billy (Kentrell Loftin), whom Reb met in the foster system and considers to be a brother, though they’re not actually related. Pye once used him as a source for a story and has remained close to him, which arouses Mike’s jealousy.

What gets exposed? Well, basically everything, including Mike and Pye’s affair, the lies that Jane has built her life on, and Reb’s deeply rooted demons. Pye is the most elusive character — her neuroses seem buried deep, rather than hovering near the surface — and therefore, I thought, the most intriguing one as well.

“Exposed” has distinctive characters and some effective dark humor. It also, though, has a touch of nihilism that would make it a hard sell for most theater companies.

But the Black Box Performing Arts Center seems to be drawn to plays like this one, and anyone who is a fan of Henley (best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning “Crimes of the Heart”) — or is interested in uncompromising theater in general — should be thankful for the opportunity to see it.

The Black Box Performing Arts Center presents “Exposed” through May 28. After the May 22 show, Henley — who collaborated during rehearsals with the creative team via Zoom — will participate in an in-person Q&A session, moderated by playwright Craig Lucas (whose “Ode to Joy” was presented by Black Box PAC earlier this year).

For information or tickets, blackboxpac.com.

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