No Exit, written by Jean-Paul Sartre, focuses on existential questions through the interactions of only four characters (Garcin, Inez, Estelle, and the Valet) while they are in hell. No Exit constructs hell as a place without torture devices and hellfire. Rather, the tourture of the denizens comes from the actions and words of the other souls condemned to hell. Locking people up in a room in which time never changes and they have to deal with each other will undoubtedly lead to some terrible words and actions.
In the play, everything boils down to each person holding something valuable just out of reach of the others. Garcin views himself as a coward and can’t handle his own self-damning thoughts. He desires for someone who can understand him but doesn’t condemn him. Inez is a woman who can understand Garcin but refuses to condone him. Inez desires a partner and Estelle is the one who can be that partner. Unfortunately, Estelle believes in heteronormativity to an extreme and only wants dealings with the male who, in her mind, must have the answer. But that’s all Estelle wants from Garcin: an answer and physical comfort. She can’t care less about his moral failings. Thus, the three are caught in a never-ending, torturous loop wherein what they desire from other people is denied to them while remaining just in sight.
The set was comprised of a second empire drawing room with three awkwardly placed couches (Estelle complains about the couches). I noted that one of the couches belongs to Jones Chapel and I had been wondering where it went. I look forward to identifying other borrowed furniture in future productions (Shall we play a game?).
The costuming was not particularly indicative of any time period, as they all appeared relatively modern, save for the Valet’s costume (that reminded me of Miss Marple’s At Bertram Hotel) which looked over-the-top compared to the others’ costumes. Still, this apparent dichotomy of costuming worked as the three are normal people and the Valet is, apparently, a denizen of hell.
Overall, the acting was very believable. Everything flowed smoothly until Garcin made an aggressive pass at Estelle in order to rile up Inez. As soon as the aggressive breast fondling began, I promptly started worrying about the actress playing Estelle. Doubtless, the actions were planned out and discussed at length to ensure everyone was comfortable with the scene; regardless I was thrown from my immersion by my worry for the actress’s wellbeing. This happened once more, when Estelle comes onto Garcin and straddles him on the couch while trying to kiss him. I was in disbelief that such actions happened on stage and, again, was worried for the actors beneath the characters (this time aimed at Garcin). Even in acting, wouldn’t having a person refuse to back off be harmful to one’s mental well-being? I was later purely disgusted when Garcin and Estelle start trying to have sex on the couch (which may well have been the point). Poor Inez had to suffer watching heterosexual foreplay and desperately tries to stop it for her own mental wellbeing. In all of these surprisingly sexual scenes, it is clear that other people’s interactions and behavior can easily be labeled as hellish.
Bracketing the stage were a collection of TVs, both old bulky ones and sleek new ones, which provided the audience with views of what the characters were seeing as they peer into the world of the living and with views of the characters’ faces at times when their expressions tells the audience more about them than their words and/or actions do. Therefore, this production of a 1944 play had a decidedly modern facelift.
Written by Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit was directed by Steven Roten and produced by the Meredith Ensemble Theatre with MacKenzie Ulibarri, Emily Johns and Micheal Allen aiding work on pre-production. The Valet was played by Laura Corum, Garcin was played by Matthew Hager, Inez was played by Anna Phillips and Estelle was played by Gracie Glenn.
By Lilly R. Wood, A&E Editor