Off Central’s No Exit
Perhaps you’ve experienced being in the same room with a toxic person — an egotist, hypochondriac, pessimist, etc. — for a long time. It can seem like an eternity. People can make our lives hell, and Jean Paul Sartre’s No Exit (at Off Central) demonstrated that. Alan Mohney, Jr. directed the production.
In the 1944 existentialist play, three people are put together, in a room symbolizing hell. Cradeau (Comelio Aguilera) arrived first. He’s brought in by the Bellboy, who has an appropriate cool, detached demeanor (Anthony Gervais). His black suit and fire-red shirt and accents bring out the devil in him.
Cradeau is followed by Inez (Jenna Jane) and then Estelle (Alexa Perez). Initially they comment on their stark surroundings of a divan and two chairs, plus a mantle with a statue of Napoleon and a letter opener.
Estelle desperately needs a mirror, saying, “I simply can’t go through all eternity without a mirror.” Cradeau seeks a toothbrush. They wonder where the instruments of torture are.
Cradeau is immediately jumpy, calling the room “hideous,” complaining about the light. We learn early about his obsession with his manhood when he tries to lift the statue of Napoleon and can’t. He projects what damnation will be like when he says he’s “always living with people I couldn’t stand.”
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Cradeau and Estelle think it is merely chance that thrusted the three together. But the perceptive, forthright Inez – who tells us “I’m not a polite person” – knows differently.
“They leave nothing to chance,” she says.
The three are meant to torture each other.
And so, the three go on to tell their stories, hiding their misdeeds. At first they can’t understand why they are where they are, but Inez knows there is more to their lives.
“People are not damned for nothing,” Inez said.
With sadistic glee, Inez described the evil plot that brought her to this place. Then the others speak their truths, making themselves more odious with each detail of their sordid lives. As one revealed their weaknesses, the others pounced on the opportunities to make their hell-mates mad with jealousy, guilt, and indignation.
No Exit’s Cast and Performance
These are meaty performances handled wonderfully by a seasoned cast.
Aguilar’s Cradeau seethes with intensity magnified by his eternal feelings of insecurity. I loved Jane as Inez — her mocking tones, her stalking the others like a cat with a mouse, her hypnotic phrasing and menacing laugh. Inez’s smugness and sense of superiority ring true with Jane’s performance.
Perez captured all the superficiality of Estelle, who until the end obsesses over her own looks and getting the man, any man. The lighting and sound nicely created scenes in which the trio saw into the world they left behind. I especially enjoyed Estelle watching her beau dance with another woman, her anger reaching a fever peak.
Props also to the builder of the exit door, which must withstand repeated hard whacks as occupants try to escape.