Three's a crowd. Unless you're a character in No Exit. Then things become much, much more problematic.
In Jean-Paul Sartre's 1944 play, three recently deceased characters are condemned to a small room where they will spend eternity. Soon they learn their hell won't be one of fire and pitchforks, but one of everlasting boredom, perpetual sleeplessness, and incessant argument. In between fighting amongst each other, the embittered souls recount their lives and the events that led them to the place where they're unable to hope or even cry.
Philosophical without being didactic, eloquent without being rambling, No Exit is an inviting play to reinterpret. Director Robert Castle took full advantage of the invitation, fashioning a postmodern inferno that remained true to the existentialist philosophy of the author. Using off-and-on lighting to illustrate the passing of time and setting the play against a ceaseless drone of background sounds, Castle accentuated the horrific monotony of the underworld while boosting the stress between characters. Unfortunately, at almost two hours, Castle allowed the play to run on too long, increasing the feeling of tediousness yet allowing the tension to wane. Still, his other choices were successful, especially the decision to use a flirty rather than aloof valet who escorts the damned into the room, and to have the same valet step offstage and use a handheld spotlight to illuminate each of the three during their monologues.
As Garcin, Assaf Ben-Shetrit paced the stage like a caged tiger, a man impatient to begin his suffering. Though effectively anxious, his intensity threatened to scorch the character, and a softer touch would have been welcome at times. As Estelle, Susanna Raeven hit every note with precision. Her Estelle held a superb blend of confused spirit and doomed murderer. As Inez, the woman who "can't get on without making people suffer," Stephanie Schmiderer was a delicious bitch, tormenting her fellow inmates with equal parts anger and delight. Natasa Warasch brought a fresh spin to the valet, creating a seductive tease rather than perfunctory caretaker.
Douglas Filomena's harsh lighting was terrific. In addition to the periodic blackouts, the lights glared down on the three without mercy, exposing their fears and highlighting their hostilities. Frank Boros's pop-art set, "Andy Warhol's nightmare" in the added lines of one character, and the uncredited costumes, were sharp, all in shades of red or near-red. Joel Douek's sound, a combination of industrial machinery noise, creaking doors and jazz riffs, was quiet enough to be unobtrusive but strong enough to add tautness and a pervasive sense of doom.
Spectacle Productions knows how to put an audience through hell. Their production of No Exit was exquisitely sadistic, a cunning, sexual work that engaged those in the audience by torturing those on stage. An eternity in hell may be agony, but with a production this keen, an evening's visit is a thrill.
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Copyright 2002 Ken Jaworowski