Thursday, Jul 24, 2014 03:20 pm est

Pearl Theatre Company mounts faithful production of ‘No Exit’

Posted on March 11, 2014 | by Clio McConnell

Courtesy of Pearl Acting Company

Most people who believe in Hell agree that it is a place of constant suffering. But Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic play “No Exit” defies those who think a devil with horns and a pitchfork is causing the suffering.

“No Exit” is not a hellish piece of theater. Rather than being a pain to sit through, the play is quite entertaining to watch. This existential drama focuses on the damned, specifically three recently deceased “guests” who have just checked into the lodgings in which they will endure a torturous afterlife.

When the play begins, Cradeau, Inez and Estelle — played by Bradford Cover, Jolly Abraham and Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, respectively — are as much strangers to each other as they are to the audience. Over the course of 100 minutes viewers watch them become intimately acquainted, discussing their crimes and regrets in excruciating detail. They come to terms with death in very different ways, but each character is ultimately resigned to his or her fate in the end.

Their journey is an interesting trajectory to witness. To accept one’s own damnation is an emotional rollercoaster, and these actors present an impressive array of passions, from fear to fury to frustration. The problem is that audience members are not asked, or at least not convinced, to identify with any of the characters on stage.

Although many plays involve nothing more than a sparse set and several people onstage yelling at each other, they pack more punch than “No Exit” does. Edward Albee and Tennessee Williams use the living-room drama format to depict tense interpersonal relationships, and their realism hits harder than Sartre’s figurative presentation.

Director Linda Ames Key shows the audience an awful situation and tells them how awful it is. The scenario presented is very clearly Hell — Sartre’s script hits viewers over the head with the location, making sure they do not mistake it for Earth. And yet this somehow detracts from the horror of the situation, because they do not have to internalize that horror.

When “No Exit” premiered in 1944 Paris, the concept “hell is other people” was a revolutionary one. Sartre presents a version of eternal damnation that could apply to anyone — there are no specific levels of hell for different crimes. In this torture chamber, “the customers serve themselves.”

However, in the Pearl Theatre Company’s mounting of “No Exit,” which is wholly faithful to the script, it seems as though Hell is one specific room. Locked into their cage of debris — in a set brilliantly designed by Harry Feiner — Inez blackmails, Estelle preens and Cradeau does his best to ignore them entirely. These people are so self-obsessed that the audience members are caught up in them, forgetting to consider what they would do if they were put in the characters’ places, as Sartre intended.

Perhaps this play is too familiar, with most audience members knowing Sartre’s intent before the curtain goes up. This allows directors to present scenes in a shallow or literal way, even while deep questions are being asked. In this day and age, “No Exit” is a thoroughly entertaining exercise in gallows humor, but it has nowhere near the same shock value as the original production would have.

“No Exit” is playing at the Pearl Theatre Company, 555 W. 42nd Street, through March 30.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 12 print edition. Clio McConnell is arts editor. Email her at cmcconnell@nyunews.com.

Comments

CLOSE [x]
CLOSE [x]
CLOSE [x]
profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

AS
Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.

 

DY
Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

CLOSE [x]
  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    NEWS FEATURES MULTIMEDIA SPORTS ARTS OPINION
    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.

    Next