Striking a balance between dramatic conflict and philosophical musings and coining the maxim that "hell is other people," Sartre's 1945 No Exit, though no longer shocking, provides a fascinating look at its three damned protagonists -- Estelle, the socialite who drowned her illegitimate child; Inez, the postal clerk who tormented her lesbian lover; and Garcin, the coward and deserter -- who are ingeniously thrown together in order to torment each other, by their mere presence, for eternity. And in a modernist drawing room in which lights are always glaring and eyes can never be shut, eternity promises to be very long indeed.
As Estelle, Andrea D'Arcy Mead was absolutely charming. She displayed a virtuosic range, most evident in her central monologue. Watching an ex-lover dance with a friend, she ran the gamut of emotions that veered from mocking superiority to raw bitterness and from strength to vulnerability. A passionate performance, it also, unfortunately, seriously outshone those of her fellow actors.
Neil Casey's Garcin was, on the surface, equally charming but lacked Mead's emotional depth. Beyond the slick exterior, however, the only thing to emerge was a significant amount of whining. And Julie Parent's Inez was wooden throughout. George Rand had the rather thankless role of the valet, which he played effectively, displaying a subtle sadistic glee as he introduced the others to their fate.
To create a Hell without torture chambers, set designer Derek Haffar used bright colors and sparse, unfriendly modern furniture that would not have been out of place in a trendy New York apartment. Lit in hot green, orange and blue lights, however, it became a distressingly harsh and angular space. The costumes (Anne F. Murphy) were effectively neutral. They were pleasant and unobtrusive, except for the oddly distracting fact that Estelle's taupe pumps were at least two sizes too big for her feet.
Sartre allows his damned souls very few props -- a grotesque bronze, a letter knife, a bell that doesn't work. Thematically, the most important prop is the one that is missing -- there are no mirrors in Sartre's Hell. Tormented by this lack, and seeking anything shiny to reflect her image, Estelle is reduced to using Inez's eyes as her looking glass. This crucial moment was slightly marred when Garcin nonchalantly removed a shiny silver lighter and cigarette case from his pocket, either of which would have provided Estelle with a sufficiently reflective surface.
Such details aside, Todaro's direction was solid and kept the show well-grounded. After the initial tautly directed confrontations, however, the production hit a rather long and dull plateau. But it eventually pulled itself out, recapturing the conflict by the end of the play, whose disturbing ending Todaro handled beautifully.
The ITC is somewhat at a disadvantage, however, by being forced to use the extremely dated translation. Sartre fans who would like a fresh (and hopefully less stilted) translation of the play may wish also to see Ubu Repertory's No Exit (April 16-May 5), in the first new translation ever approved by the Sartre estate.
Copyright 1996 Sarah Stevenson
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