Tuesday, October 6, 2015

No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre

Carolyn Hennesy (l.), Erica Edd, Rick Friesen, Alan Naggar, Barbara Ann Howard, Kristen Egermeier, Matt Fowler, Austin Musick - Photo by Kent Minault

By Joe Straw

He owed me $138.01 and I couldn’t find him.  He didn’t answer my calls and that wasn’t like him.  Not paying me, that was like him, but not answering the proverbial door, well, he’s never done that. For two years he was nowhere to be found, then, as one does with a lost cause, I wrote him and the money off, when unexpectedly, he walked into my office. 

I found out that, during those two years, he had died. Well, not completely.  Five heart attacks couldn’t kill him, completely.

And in his smiling Middle Eastern accent: “I was dead too - and I want you to know there was no white light, no one to come get me from the other side, there was nothing but nothing, done, finished, quiet, peace.” – Narrator.

InterACTtheatre company presents No Exit, a revolutionary play by Jean Paul Sartre, directed by Ken Minault, and produced by Michele Rose Naggar from September 17 to November 1, 2015 at Oh My Ribs! Theatre, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, California.

If you believe, don’t believe, think you want to believe, or don’t want to believe, you should run to see this show. Come over to the other side, the side you think is there and look into their three walls, reside in the fourth, and watch this remarkable show.

This show happens in small earthly increments.

First of all, there is a little bit of theatrics when one arrives outside the theatre.  On this night, a couple stick their heads out, alá the Marx Brothers, look at me, and inform me they’ll be opening soon, slide, and bolt lock the door.   

And I’m left there standing along Santa Monica Boulevard breathing in deadly VW exhaust fumes, waiting to expire, when five minutes before curtain, they allowed us entrance.   

And before I enter the theatre, someone interrupts me and asks me to sign a form:

Indenture of Retainer in Reference to a Soul
(This is a Standard Contract – You don’t have to read it.)

“Standard.” Ha!  Only in Hollywood.

I signed it and then had second thoughts, big thoughts.

The Valet (Rick Friesen) slides the door open of this mausoleum and with his powerful voice scares the bejesus out of me as he announces my name.  It is all rather comedic and ghastly.  Couples are treated semi-respectfully and Valet moves one step further to disparage the single patron, no he shames them.  (Take someone with you.)   

After all are seated, the play begins.

In my mind, No Exit is an illusion, of characters presenting a false front of imaginings and impressions in a place of espial, under the watchful eye of a higher power.

So, as a means of describing the play, I will offer an observation in the voice of the character you don’t see, the Valet’s Uncle. The bold quotes are from the play.

“Valet’s eternity starts with a grand beginning and Valet didn’t let me down.  It is the proverbial stake in the heart, and it is also the way in, with No Exit. You may applaud.

“I’m Joseph Garcin, journalist and man of letters by profession.” - Garcin

Despite his brave front, Joseph Garcin (Matt Fowler) is a coward; there is no mistake about that.  If I could engrave that one thing into your ineffectual wandering mind, it is that Garcin is a coward. And that is all.  Not really all, there is a little more. 

Garcin was caught running away from a fight, an important fight.  They found him on the train, seated innocently.  The soldiers politely took him off the train and executed him for being a deserter.  Twelve bullets raced toward that coward’s heart and found a way through his abrigo, bleeding where cowards bleed, gasping for breath, face down, and in the dirt.

For Garcin, it was his peripeteia. Pity.

Garcin is here now, in my little playpen, some call it hell.  There are other names. This is not what he imagined it to be but they never do.  They expect instruments of torture, flames, and red-hot pincers—funny.  

And Garcin expects that he is here because of something he has done and it doesn’t have anything to do with the bullets. I wonder what that could be? The others will enervate his smug confidence once they arrive.

The Valet is my nephew.  He adores that name. Valet introduces Garcin into the room, with the nasty Second Empire furniture motif, and a male bronze, complete with a raging bulge, something that the ever-so-masculine-coward Garcin would like and maybe one of the others that will follow.   

I took special care to provide a room filled with articles that are unmovable, including the bronze, and everything is precisely where it should be, angles and all.  

Garcin and Valet don’t get along, just as I expected.  Garcin has an air about him.  That won’t last long.

My nephew doesn’t have his eyelids.  They have atrophied and now he’s left them in a forgotten place.

This place is like that.  

Garcin has not gotten the hint about the room.

“I shall never sleep again. But, then how shall I endure my own company?” – Garcin

There is no way out.  Garcin may ring for the Valet, but hell is capricious.  Funny to hear Garcin inquire of what lies beyond the door.

“There’s a passage.” – Valet

“And at the end of the passage?” – Garcin

“There’s more room, more passages, and stairs.” – Valet

“And what lies beyond them?” –

“That’s all.” – Valet

Not a good start for the honeymoon accommodations.  No books, no windows, only a paper-knife, and I laugh every time I think about it.

One can plainly see that when Garcin is left alone, the coward peeks his head out, like the turtlehead coming out of the shell.  Oh really, the paroxysm of necessity, the pounding on the door is so, unnecessary. And not the least bit provocative.

My dear Valet has to provide some comfort, it’s part of his job, so he opens the door to give the room an extra added flavor, Inez Serrano (Carolyn Hennesy), a fashionable lesbian postal clerk.  Oh! How I detest that word, lesbian.  How about “A lover who wings another way”

“…we should make a point of being extremely courteous to each other.  That will ease the situation for us both.” – Garcin

“I’m not polite.” – Inez

“Then I must be polite for two.” – Garcin

Not only a coward but a bore as well with his weasel mouth for which Inez is not particularly fond of, and she tells him that, because that’s the type of woman she is, straightforward, to the point, and very nasty to his contradictory masculinity.

It is only when Estelle Rigault (Austin Musick) joins that Inez tempers her flair. Inez is intoxicated with the female form, her dress, and those delicate hands, which are carefully looked after.  But Estelle is perplexed and it is up to Inez to help her.   

“Estelle!” – Inez

“Yes?” – Estelle

“What have your done? I mean, why have they sent you here? – Inez

“That’s just it.  I haven’t a notion, not the foggiest.  In fact, I’m wondering if there hasn’t been some ghastly mistake.” – Estelle  

Oh she knows but she is having a hard time coming to terms. This is turning out as much fun as I had planned.”

(I’m told that I should tell you that I’ve switched voices.  Thank you for your indulgence.)

I’ve seen No Exit in multiple forms and on different occasions.  By all means, there is no wrong or right way to execute the play.  One might think there are better choices, or creatively, a better fit.  Certainly, this particular production has some very nice things in it and Kent Minault, the director, presents the piece as a comedy (I think it is a comedy.) with just the right touch of frightening elements for those in need of that form of drama. On this particular night, moments were missed that will probably come together when you see it. But still, this is an outstanding night of theatre.

Matt Fowler as Garcin brings a lot of humor to the role. Garcin is afraid of his own shadow, certainly afraid of this new beginning, despite his brave front. And in the play, this weakness defines the character and movement must be made with that in mind.  I didn’t see much of that in Fowler’s character.  In his version, Garcin’s brave soul wants to avoid the conflict by making it an introspective process.  He is not showing us the fear in his character which one must have in order to realize the truth and ultimately his salvation.  In the end, we never get his full story.  It’s part of his work in progress for salvation.  Still, this is a fine role for Fowler and he does remarkably well.

Carolyn Hennesy plays Inez very delicately and is surprising in her manner and execution.  Hennesy is very calm and relaxed, and she lets the moments play to great satisfaction. There is a question about how much she wants her female companion in hell.  Does it go far enough in terms of want? She does everything in order to get the woman to wing her way.  Also, Inez is not polite.  The song she sings is about people being executed did not come off as an instigating dig in Garcin’s direction. It was beautifully sung but did not hit the mark with the intention it deserved.  Hennesy came out during curtain call and politely curtsied but more was in her look, that things did not go accordingly as planned, that it was an off night.  But this was Hennesy’s night.  The work was excellent and almost flawless. (Despite my ramblings.)

Austin Musick is Estelle and there were some fine moments in her performance.  But the role really requires Estelle to be dripping with want, especially for a man, any man will do, cowards included. This Estelle conveys a sinister debutante, a poor southern girl married into wealth, rather than a woman who uses her beauty to get what she wants, when she wants it.  But, her choices, although sometimes interesting, kept her in the middle of the road.  One would want to see her fighting off the woman one moment, and pulling the man to her every chance she got, despite his cowardly handicap.

Regarding Kent Minault’s direction the one thing that caught my attention was the lipstick scene, which did not covey the meaning of want but portrayed the scene as someone moistening her lips.  Also, on the other side of the lipstick, was a woman who desperately wants Estelle and getting nowhere.  This scene defines the relationship for all three, of three individuals stuck in hell, and not being able to get what they want for eternity. 

Also, in the character’s want of salvation, and striving for the truth to move on, to eventually get out, none are shocked to learn the true nature of the other’s crimes. No Exits suggest they are trying to get out but won’t because they can never fully come clean. Their stories are very shaky and suspect and also, they are not reliable reporters of the truth.   

Alternate cast members who did not perform the night I was there include Erica Edd (Inez), Kristen Egermeier (Estelle), Barbara Ann Howard (Valet), and Alan Naggar (Valet).

Alan Naggar served as the Executive Producer.

Michele Rose Naggar was also a Producer and the Costume Designer.

Kurtis Bedford, Set Designer, displays appropriate skills in this very workable small intimate theatre.

Carol Doehring is the Lighting Designer.

Jonathan Sacks – Musical Direction
Ari Radousky – Stage Manager
Aaron Francis – Stage Manager
Philip Sokoloff – Publicist

Run!  Run!  And take someone who has seen No Exit a number of times if for no other reason than to get another perspective of hell.  

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