Stephanie Wittels Wachs has a ferocious passion to her. She doesn’t simply want to put on good theater; she wants to put on plays that resonate with audiences, that speak to where we are in the world and what we owe each other. Martín Zimmerman's On the Exhale fits solidly into that space.
“This play is very much about guns and the problem with them,” she says. “But it also looks at that issue from both angles and it doesn’t preach on one side or the other. It’s very much a personal story.”
Written in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in 2012, Zimmerman’s play is an exploration of grief. But it’s also humorous, which makes the heavy subject matter more approachable.
“I’m a mother, and I am scared to send my kid to school every day,” says Wittels Wachs, Rec Room’s co-founder and executive director, who’s also directing the show. “This is important to me and I think it’s important to many others.”
From its roots as a scrappy little arts organization that opened its door presenting staged readings of My So-Called Life, the Rec Room has become a force to be reckoned with among Houston’s smaller theaters. This season, they gave us Exit Strategy, a deep discussion about what it takes to make education work and how we look at failing schools. Now comes the regional premiere of On the Exhale, a 60-minute, one-woman show starring Amy Bruce, often seen on stage with Catastrophic Theatre, and who, Wittels Wachs says, gives a tour de force performance in the piece.
“She was the one person I wanted for this,” she says. “Luckily she said yes. And she is magnificent. She’s a mom of two kids, so she gets this, and it’s important to her.”
Wittels Wachs says because Zimmerman wrote the play as a one-person show, there is a sense of immediacy to it; the audience is forced to watched Bruce go through grief and rage and questioning in a much more intimate way than had this been a multi-character piece. And that intimacy, she believes, will compel audiences to consider America’s fascination with guns.
“It’s impossible to watch this show and not make it about yourself on some level,” she says. “You’re forced to imagine what if this happened to you? I think a play like this allows us to use our platform as performers and creators of art for good. I’m hoping people leave and start having different conversations about guns and what we can do.”
Feb. 20–March 9. Tickets $30. Rec Room, 100 Jackson St. 713-344-1291. More info and tickets at recroomarts.org.