Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Theatre AUM: "No Exit"

Jean-Paul Sartre, a leading figure in Twentieth Century existentialism, wrote No Exit in 1944 reflecting war-torn Europe's sense of futility and universal concern with life and death, eternal reward or punishment, and the possibility of oblivion...and Theatre AUM recently mounted a solid production that had audiences discussing it some time after leaving the theatre.

Hearkening back to Dante's inscription on the gates of Hell: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" in the "Inferno" section of his Commedia, and signaling the absurdity of Beckett's tramps/clowns who wait for a Godot who never appears, Sartre's one act No Exit is set in an anteroom to Hell where three strangers are escorted by a Valet [Naiya Jasmine] and politely told they can't leave, won't ever sleep, and worst of all (once each has acknowledged their transgressions) their existence in this place will be unbearable. There is no torturer, no Hell-fire and brimstone. Indeed, as the play concludes: "Hell is other people."

Introspective Vincent [Mark Dasinger, Jr.] was executed for cowardice during the War, and had cheated on his wife, bringing other women into their home. -- Estelle [Allyson Lee], a vain socialite, killed her own child and caused her secret lover's suicide. -- Inez [Blaire Casey] had a lesbian affair with her cousin's wife and caused several deaths as a result.

As played in-the-round on Frank Thomas's minimalist set (a triangular platform with three sofas), director Val Winkelman emphasizes the intimacy, isolation, and entrapment of the room on its three inhabitants. She has also stripped the script of some of its subtleties to make a forceable argument.

The ensemble actors gradually reveal their characters' true selves while becoming more and more concerned with their fate and how to survive an eternity together. -- Sexual tension is achieved as Estelle rejects Inez's "romantic" advances and attempts to retaliate by seducing Vincent who in turn rejects her.

As they come to realize that each one controls the others' destinies and that they are so much alike in their depravities ( all delivered in polite language and demeanor, and graced with a good amount of ironic humor), all pretense has been stripped bare and they are "as naked as the day they were born".

Theatre AUM has again provided a minor gem to Montgomery audiences -- provocative and pertinent, No Exit resonates today much as it did almost 70 years ago.