The longer I watched Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit the more I realized what eternity really meant. Three people, locked into each other until the end of time. Of course, this is Hell. A banal Hell that will never end. Were I a religious person, I would not have slept much last night after falling thrall to the power of this play and of this production at Naked Stage.
Could Hell really be found in a 1940s Parisian salon? A salon without windows, pictures, mirrors, photos on the walls, yet discernible as in the Second Empire fashion? There's an uncomfortable looking dining room chair and two benches. One long enough to lie on, and a much shorter creaky one. A statue above the fireplace. A bell push that may or may not work. There's no bathroom; nowhere to brush your teeth. Why would you want to do that? You're dead.
Co-directors Antonio Amadeo and John Manzelli have seemingly floated this salon out towards the audience and because the room also has a ceiling the effect, as my wife pointed out, is of peeping through a doll's house window. But the peeps soon turn into mesmerized stares as we watch Mark Della Ventura, (the Bellboy), Andy Quiroga (Vincent Cradeau), Deborah L. Sherman (Inez Serrano) and Katherine Amadeo (Estelle DeLaunay) peel the layers off each other and themselves.
The Bellboy is chillingly amiable, a perfect gentleman's gentleman, as he welcomes Cradeau into this personal Hell. Cradeau is a be-suited man of some sophistication. Naturally he is nervous. He paces. With staccato speech, he questions and examines but then is left alone. He is going to spend eternity here? Alone? No, he is not. He pushes the bell button. Nothing. It's dead. He pounds on the locked door, roaring for the Bellboy who eventually returns, ushering in Inez, an abrupt, mannish, gangly woman who readily accepts her position and immediately accuses Cradeau of being her torturer, because torturers look frightened. And then Estelle, wealthy, pampered, a sneering butterfly, enters. I died of pneumonia, she announces. Inez counters with the gas stove and Crudeau tops them with twelve bullets to the chest.
And for 100 engrossing minutes we get this talented cast showing us what Hell could really be. Sad. And scary. And very well done theatre.
No Exit runs through November 21 at Naked Stage, The Pelican Theatre at Barry University, 11300 NE 2nd Avenue, Miami Shores. Call 866.811.4111 or visit www.nakedstage.org.
Photo by Roger Martin