Escape Routes is this year’s FringeNext entry written, directed, acted and produced by the talented students of Highlands High School. The plot centers around nerdy bookworm Clark who gets paired up with nonconformist slacker Johnny for an important high school philosophy class project. Getting an A on the project is crucial for Clark so that he can finish as valedictorian and get accepted at Harvard where he aims to eventually get into medical school.
Though Johnny is at first aggressively intimidating to Clark, the two eventually develop a strained but growing friendship as Clark becomes ingratiated with Johnny’s group of rebellious outcast friends.
Clark begins to feel that he has no identity. “I don’t even know how to fake who I am,” he says. Clark must ultimately choose between following the life path his witchy mother wants him to choose and striking out in his own direction with the encouragement of his new friends, especially Johnny.
The action and conflict sometimes lose their focus toward the middle of this 90-minute play as the characters vent, rant and philosophize. But the cast of 10 gets many moments to shine, particularly as they let out their bitterness and frustration at finding themselves in a corrupt world they cannot relate to and which does not value them.
The Highlands students should be given credit for attempting an ambitious show that covers a lot of moral and philosophical ground while also touching on many contemporary social issues such as drug addiction, LGBT acceptance, child abuse, bullying and lots of youthful rage and angst.
As a theatre piece the play is probably a bit too ambitious and could benefit from some pruning. But the whole point of FringeNext is to encourage students to use their theatrical talents to explore and think big. Escape Routes does exactly that.
Joe McDonough is a Cincinnati playwright whose plays have been staged locally and around the country.