'Hellians' discover their eternal blame game
There is no intermission, no exit, from Hell for the damned souls in the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre's new year production of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. Directed by Lola Bond, Sarte quickly introduces the audience into his French, post-Freudian understanding of misery in this 1946 popular, existential look at the soul's self-inflicted Hell.
The heralded Frenchman wastes no time inviting the audience into his first-hand look, observations of the mental chaos, angst, agony as he opens the gates to the 'other world' and gleefully exclaims, "Welcome to Hell."
The ART's NO EXIT tells the story of three damned souls, sharing a residence in Hell. The play begins with an introduction from the Valet (Franka Perez, top row). The Valet then shows the first damned soul, Joseph Garcin (Michael Glover, image left) into his new room. As Joseph is acclimating himself to his new space, the Valet brings in the second damned soul, Inez Serrano (Jennifer Hutton, image right) and then the third, Estelle Delauney (Emma Grimm, bottom row).
The trio establish, and reestablish, their ground rules for cohabitation. The three discover that they are to torture each other, but they make a plan to prevent this from happening. They'll each stick to their own area, and remain silent.
But the plan doesn't quite work out. The characters begin to tell their stories, of how they died, and why they ended up in Hell. In the telling of these stories, the audience relates to the characters as we see their good, their bad, and their humanity.
The trio discovers there is no getting out of Hell. They are there to torture each other, and no matter what they do, that is going to happen.
"Hell is other people" says Joseph. If they were alone in Hell, it wouldn't be Hell, right? There would be no one to torture them. Except themselves. Hell isn't really other people, we create our own Hell. I'd have to agree with Sartre here. No one can torture you more than you can.
Want to know what they did? Sorry, no spoilers here, you'll have to go see the show. All three characters are easy to relate too. None of us are sinless. I don't want to give anything away here, but I was definitely shocked by one of the characters. When the play began, I was half expecting to learn that one of them was there by mistake. There's no way they could all be worthy of eternal damnation...or maybe I was wrong, maybe we've all done something worthy of eternal damnation.
The NO EXIT set and lights, designed by Michael Presley Bobbitt, perfectly set the stage of Hell. A bare room with just three seats, one for each damned soul, a mantel with a bronze unmovable statue, empty picture frames, a bookshelf with hollow books, and wall sconces. Lights backstage and under the stage shine through illuminating the door, which locks from the outside. There's also a doorbell that may or may not work.
The costumes, designed by Laura Jackson, were Hell-appropriate. The three damned souls are all dressed in costumes that are appropriately lacking in color, Joseph in a grey suit, Inez in a grey blouse and grey pants, and Estelle in a grey dress. Valet is wearing a valet uniform.
This is an excellent, thought provoking play, full of raw emotion, honest soul-searching reflection, and apparent mental torture. As the stories unfold, the characters go from putting the blame for their unhappiness on others to where it really belongs... on themselves.
It doesn't get more human than that.
Don't we all, humanity, prefer to find a scapegoat for our misery rather than face the fact that we are imperfect and need to change?
The casting could not have been better. It was like the roles of Valet, Joseph, Inez, and Estelle were written for Franka, Michael, Jennifer, and Emma. The facial expressions, the emotional outbursts, the many dimensions of their characters, were all portrayed expertly.
My only complaint of NO EXIT? Not enough of the Valet! Franka's facial expressions and mannerisms were so great, I could've definitely used some more Valet sightings.
It is always hard for me to write a review of an ART show without gushing excessively. If you haven't been...go! I've seen every show since I first reviewed UMMU last May and every one of plays have made for an extraordinary evening of entertainment.
Following the show is a post-mission soiree. By now, you should know that I love a good soiree. During the soiree, you can enjoy a beverage and speak to the NO EXIT director, cast, and crew.
NO EXIT images courtesy of Aleksandr Wilde. The Acrosstown Repertory Theatre's NO EXIT continues through January 21. FOLLOW THIS LINK for times dates and more NO EXIT information.