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Exit No Exit

April 15, 2011

The Virtual Stage and Electric Company Theatre's "live film" production of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit currently playing at ACT's Geary Theatre, is packed with interesting staging concepts -- some of them illuminating of Sartre's bleak existentialist drama and others less so.

My favorite of the production's many intriguing conceits is the idea of flipping the setting for the play inside out: Instead of showing us the hermetically-sealed hotel room in which the three condemned newly-deads Cradeau, Inez and Estelle chafe at the prospect of eternal imprisonment, the action happens in the yawning space beyond the hotel room, with the valet (who's little seen in Sartre's text) almost constantly on stage.

With the "exit passage" so palpably on view and the play's action mostly taking place behind a locked door stage left and projected on screens at the back of the stage, the notion that there might theoretically in fact be "a way out" of this eternal damnation known as life is dangled before our eyes as a tantalizing possibility. It's like the tinkle of the Valet's many obsolete bells which gather in a useless pile at the front of the stage.

But the escape route area beyond the prison turns out to be a less hospitable place than the gaol of the infernally-hot hotel room in Kim Collier's production. Ultimately, we're left wondering who really has the bum deal in this drama -- it is the squabbling hotel room inmates? Or is it the poor valet, forever stuck wandering the drafty netherworld beyond the bolted door?


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