Sept. 18 2012 12:05 AM

Professor Fig presides over a thinking man's comedy'

Clockwise from bottom left: Hebert Siguenza, Lisel Gorell-Getz, Nick Cagle, JoAnne Glover and Fran Gercke
Photo by Daren Scott

It's said that the truth shall set you free, but in this season of election-year politics, who can tell what the truth is? This question's at the core of a new play by William Missouri Downs called The Exit Interview, which will make its world premiere at the Lyceum Theatre, Downtown, on Sept. 29. On the surface, the story is about a Brecht-minded college professor named Dick Fig who's being axed from his job, but The Exit Interview is about much more, and its timeliness is conspicuous.

"It's a severe comment on the media and how it manipulates us to consume and to consume politics of whatever persuasion it's trying to sell," says Herbert Siguenza, a member of the Latino troupe Culture Clash and an artist-in-residence with San Diego Repertory Theatre. Siguenza portrays Professor Fig in a production directed by the Rep's artistic director, Sam Woodhouse. 

"It's about what is the truth," Siguenza says. "If you turn on Fox, you get their truth. You turn on CNN, you get their truth. Who's right?

"Whether it's racism, sexism, politics or death, the professor talks about it," he adds. "His thesis is titled 'No Religion or Politics'—he wants people to talk about the truth."

Woodhouse, who calls the play "one of the smartest and funniest plays I've read in many years," agrees with Siguenza that "certainly one of the questions of this play is who's telling the truth, and who do I believe, and how can you prove something to be true? It talks about faith and science and religion and prayer and determinism and the scientific method. What it addresses is philosophy and Fox News and Lutheranism, Mormonism and atheism—really big questions and topics. So, the combination of intelligence and comedy and the significance of what the content is about make it really a fascinating piece to work on."

The Exit Interview, which will get a simultaneous, rolling world premiere in five other cities, also features cheerleaders, debates over the question of existence itself and a gunman terrorizing the university campus. Talk about timely.

"We don't want to emphasize the terror of the play," Siguenza says, "but it's something that is now a once-a-month thing. That says a lot about our society. Theater artists have to talk about it. Audiences have to talk about it."

Similarly, Woodhouse is hoping for audience "conversation and energetic curiosity. I hope they're having a lively conversation that takes as long as it takes them to drive home after the show, if not longer, about the ideas that are brought up in the play."

What they may be talking about is the fragility of life, its entrances and its exits. "Something so mundane like an exit interview becomes metaphorical," Siguenza says. "I think the playwright is saying that we're all in an exit interview. We could die any minute. It's pretty heavy stuff."

Heavy, yes, but The Exit Interview is also "a thinking manís comedy," Siguenza adds, pointing out that "comedy disarms audiences and opens them up to receive other messages."

More Theater

Shame set to music: America's past has its shameful episodes, none darker than the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Allegiance: A New American Musical, a world premiere show at the Old Globe Theatre, which earlier this year staged another powerful musical, The Scottsboro Boys, will recount the story of one Japanese-American family, the Kimuras, uprooted from their Salinas home and relocated to Wyoming. Tony Award winner Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon) and film and TV star George Takei star. It runs Sept. 19 through Oct. 21 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $39 and up.

Texas girls: Executive artistic director Seema Sueko, along with Robert Castro, will direct Tanya Saracho's Kita y Fernanda, about two young girls growing up in one well-heeled Texas household. Fernanda is the rich daughter, Kita the undocumented daughter of the maid. The story opens on the day of Chicago's May Day Immigration March, then flashes back to Kita's and Fernanda's childhood. Playwright Saracho, who's been called "the Chicana Chekhov," is the co-founder of Chicago's Latina theater company, Teatro Luna. Kita y Fernanda runs Sept. 27 through Oct. 21 at 10th Avenue Theatre, Downtown. $12-$20.

Theater of the brave: Moxie Theatre is calling its eighth season "Home of the Brave," and it begins with Naomi Wallace's The Trestle at Pope Lick Creek, a lyrical story set in a small town during the Depression. The presentation of Trestle reflects Moxie's ongoing philosophy of showcasing challenging work by emerging female playwrights. Wallace, a MacArthur Fellowship winner, is also the author of The Inland Sea and Slaughter City. Moxie will follow up Trestle, which runs Oct. 6 through 28 (after a week of previews), with Marisa Wegrzyn's Hickorydickory. $25-$40.

Flaming robots: One of the most anticipated new works of the year, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is a world-premiere musical co-written by The Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne and La Jolla Playhouse director emeritus Des McAnuff. Coyne also provides music and lyrics to the show, which draws from several Flaming Lips albums. The story finds a young Japanese girl named Yoshimi in a robot world where her very destiny is at stake. It opens in previews on Nov. 6 and runs through Dec. 16 at La Jolla Playhouse. $48 and up.

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