Theater Review: Pequod Productions' No Exit Is a Problematic but Promising Attempt at an Existential Classic | Arts
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Friday, March 23, 2018

Theater Review: Pequod Productions' No Exit Is a Problematic but Promising Attempt at an Existential Classic

Posted by on Fri, Mar 23, 2018 at 9:35 AM

click to enlarge no_exit2.jpg
No Exit
★★½
Through Sunday, March 25
Page-Walker Arts and History Center, Cary


Minds great and small have debated the concept of Hell for millennia. Christian fundamentalists think it’s stoked with fire and brimstone; Dante believed it is frozen in the middle. George Bernard Shaw said it’s full of amateur musicians.

Nobel laureate Jean-Paul Sartre added his now-famous insight, “Hell is other people,” in No Exit, the groundbreaking existential drama he wrote during the French occupation in 1944. Sartre’s dictum is no mere statement of distaste, as it’s often misinterpreted. For him, the basic fact that others exist demands human relationships that are based on objectification and self-subjection. What Sartre terms “the look” in works such as Being and Nothingness is a clear precursor to the feminist concept of the gaze. Indeed, there is no shortage of either in his thorny one-act play.

Why are Inez (Joanna Herath), a haughty lesbian postal clerk; Garcin (Thom Haynes), a louche heterosexual journalist of the resistance; and Estelle (Melanie Simmons), an upper-class woman who could be the object of either’s affection, in a hellish situation? Because Sartre believes their problem is unsolvable; they cannot change themselves and will never change one another in an eternally locked room.

This staging from Pequod Productions has some problems; fortunately, they have clear solutions, and the cast was already working on them on opening night. Haynes’s acting lost some of its self-consciousness as he gradually began to submerge into Garcin’s dilemma; professional training will help him develop further. Under local actor and critic Kurt Benrud’s direction, Herath’s overacted one-note caricature of Inez was gradually melting into richer, more complex nuances by evening’s end. Going away, Simmons had the best night of the three, excavating the obscurities of Estelle.

I was pleased to see their progress, even in a problematic opening. Why? In Hell, improvement is impossible. To me, Hell means never learning.

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