Sartre’s No Exit is an undisputed classic, possibly the definitionof existentialist theater. With its themes of being and nothingness, of phenomenological ontology and consciousness, it raises questions of self that have been debated for millennia and provides no easy answers.
In the Louisville Repertory Company’s current staging of the show at the Bard’s Town, the questions are raised again with a flourish; it’s a solid production of a play that dares to make you think.
It tells the tale of three souls in Hell: not Dante’s vision of fire, destruction, and torture, but a more subtle and therefore more brutal torment. Three people are forced to spend eternity locked in a room with each other. And as the play’s most famous quotation states: Hell is other people.
An unassuming (though smartly dressed) valet (Bryce Woodward) brings three damned souls, one by one, into a sitting room styled in the French Imperial manner. First is Cradeau (Silvio Wolf Busch), an adulterous World War II army deserter. Next comes Inez (Michelle Chalmers), a lesbian postal clerk. Lastly we meet Estelle (Casandre Elyse Medel), a high-society woman.
As the story progresses, each of the three tell conflicting stories of how they arrived in Hell; initially they lie to each other but eventually the truth comes out as their predicament becomes ever more precarious. Allegiances are formed and broken; sexual tension comes to the fore and gets beaten back down, leading to an inevitable but ominous conclusion.
It’s not a story that will be to everyone’s taste, but if you can get through a rather flat first sequence, it’s a show that becomes more riveting as it goes along. First-time director Darren McGee has encouraged his strong cast to find the humor in their hopeless situation, generating some laughs I was not expecting but yet felt completely justified in the telling.
Busch turns in a strong turn as Cradeau. As the character’s story unfolds and we learn more about his background, he keeps us firmly sympathizing even as we have less and less reasons to like him. Chalmers also creates an empathetic portrayal as Inez, probably the character with the most integrity despite the crimes she has committed. And finally, Medel oozes sex appeal while combining it with a fragility that makes her character, arguably the villain of the piece, completely believable.
On the technical side, McGee has done some really nice work with his lighting design, especially considering the limited resources available at the Bard’s Town, and his set (designed with Stacey Catron, Sean Childress and Michael Roberts) is realistic and nicely evokes the style of the period.
The show does suffer from a slow start, and the very talky nature of the script causes it to drag in places. But honestly, once I got into it, I was captivated. LRC has another solid production to be proud of, and The Bard’s Town has another prime example of the quality of work being performed there. Give it a look!
Starring Silvio Wolf Busch, Michelle Chalmers, Casandre Elyse Medel and Bryce Woodward.
March 14-23, 2013 @7:30 p.m.
The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Tickets: $15 cash or $16 credit card; $10 students and groups
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner