Theatre Review: ON THE EXHALE at Theatre Exhile

On the Exhale a Tour de Force at Theatre Exile


When I was teaching vocabulary to reticent teenagers, I used a metaphor of Crayola Crayons.  Not to hurt their feelings I told them they were like a 16-color pack and by improving their vocabulary they could have 64 colors with which to describe their feelings and the world around them.  Like the crayons, there are only so many primary colors, but by combining them you can create exactly what you want.  I say this because while watching the one woman show On the Exhale at Theatre Exile, I was in awe of the color palette of nuance used by Suli Holum to tell this powerful story of a liberal college professor and proud single mom who must come to grips with her worst fears about gun violence.

Presented in cooperation with the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia, this production is a beautiful collaborative effort between writer Martin Zimmerman, director Matt Pfeiffer, and actress Suli Holum.  The actress takes the powerfully written words of Zimmerman and takes us with her on the rollercoaster that becomes her life.  Director Pfeiffer gives her the room to play each emotional twist with perfection and precision.  Holum leads her character from her opening fear of retribution by a disgruntled student to the anger of a woman victimized in a way she had not anticipated to being seduced by the very weapon that bought her pain.

Our trio is assisted admirably by scenic and lighting designer Alyssandra Docherty whose simple but elegant platform gives Holum a universe in which to work. The team’s decision to keep it open lets the actress use the playwright’s words to move us from space to space.  Keyonna Butler only has one character to dress, but she follows the director’s lead by keeping it simple and versatile.

All who participated in this production can take great pride in the work.  All good directors know that the secret to a great production begins with great actors.  Ms. Holum makes the audience “feel” the story.  It is truly a 64-crayon performance and one I will always be glad that I saw.  As a holiday gift to yourself spend a powerful 70 minutes with Suli Holum.  In this world replete with gun violence, I can’t think of a better vehicle to help you gain some fresh insight into this blight on society.  On the Exhale runs until December 22nd.  For tickets go to or call 215.218.4022.

Photo by Paola Nogueras

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