Review: 'Exception to the Rule' is Smart, Funny and Thought-provoking

The very best theatre hits you on many levels. Great performances of excellent material that make you laugh, make you feel, make you think, and maybe even make you change, are what theatre enthusiasts know is possible—and hope for every time we sit down to see a show.

“Exception to the Rule” at Face Off Theatre Company is exactly that kind of experience. 

Billed as a modern “Breakfast Club”, Dave Harris’s well-written script tells the story of six Black students stuck in detention at an inner-city high school that ranked 43rd of 49 in standardized test scores. Five of them are regulars, but their shenanigans and expectations are interrupted when “college-bound Erika," who’s never been there before, walks into Room 111.

What unfolds is 75 witty, smart, fast-paced minutes of hilarity and angst that come across as very real teenage life in tight little scenes that reveal the darker side of being part of a system that was designed to manage rather than make thrive. As the students wait and wonder where the teacher is who is meant to supervise them, they reveal their individual and collective back stories—the surface-level why they’re each in detention as well as the structural oppression that keeps them shackled, not just in a school that is more prison than anything else, but also by the violence and poverty that quietly looms large.

And yet it’s a very funny comedy as well. It’s a masterful achievement as a script, and brought to its fullest potential by a truly wonderful production directed by Arizsia Staton with incredible attention to every detail. From the technical elements to the performances, this show is excellent.

Each actor fully embodies their distinct character in mannerism and voice but also represents larger archetypes without fanfare. It’s the intensity of Jared Pittman’s eyes as he speaks of his father’s imprisonment as Abdul; the way Nikita Rose is both innocent and knowing as she captures being “the whitest person in a room full of Black people”; Milan Levy’s expression of the hurt of indignant outrage in one breath and the pain that belies her satire of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” in the next; Xavier Bolden’s goofball Tommy who’s cutting up one moment and acknowledging his deepest fears and anxieties in another; Ashani Jewell’s flip of her hair and posture that speaks volumes; and Dalanti Hall’s straight-arm hands on thighs and chin jutting forward as armor that’s as powerful as his big laugh and playful spirit.

Zaynee Miller’s costumes and props help build these characters and the verisimilitude of their scene work; Sam Snow’s elegant lighting design makes each scene distinct and appropriately dramatic; and Ezra Anisman’s sound helps create the ominous space of the school in lockdown.

“Exception to the Rule” at Face Off Theatre is a marvelous achievement, a profound gift to the community. It’s a smart, funny, thought-provoking new play carefully produced to bring an important subject and critique to its audiences. With pay-what-you-wish tickets and well-facilitated talk backs after each performance designed to bring everyone in the room into conversation about the larger issues at play, this show is wildly entertaining, yes, and also an effective force of positive change.

Exception to the Rule
Face Off Theatre
July 13-16