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No Exit

As a critic, it’s an odd occasion to attend the last performance of a production that has been running for over one month, but that is what the Dresser did on October 21, 2007, when she saw Scena Theatre’s No Exit. NoExitMen.jpgPhoto by Ian C. Armstrong

It’s no secret that director Robert McNamara has produced an outstanding offering to open Scena’s 20th anniversary season that he is calling Nouvelle Vague 2007 (New Wave 2007). In fact McNamara offered this production of No Exit in 2005 to sell-out audiences and the critics liked it again in 2007.

The Dresser who studied French literature in college had not seen this play since she was a student at the University of Maryland. In College Park, this play was performed in a black box theater set up as theater in the round. It felt appropriately claustrophobic. Seeing McNamara’s production, she now remembers how acutely Jean-Paul Sartre’s play affected her. 1161_1019053397.jpg
After seeing the U MD production of Huis Clos (No Exit), she believed that to be, one must do and that one is the sum of her/his actions. In short, existentialism made sense and the Dresser has continued in that way of thinking. What the Dresser did not know until recently is that the popular English translation of Sartre’s seminal play was written by Paul Bowles. The Dresser, who met Bowles in 1982 and spent three weeks in Tangier, Morocco, working on her poems about Gertrude Stein with this expatriate writer/composer, is now working on a book of poems about Bowles and his wife Jane. That Paul Bowles translated Sartre makes absolute sense given Bowles bleak view of humankind.

This one-act play concerns one man and two women who are escorted by a bellboy to a windowless, mirror-free room and then locked in. This is hell without the physical accoutrements of torture but also there is no toothpaste. Why? Because “Hell is other people.”

In the English version, the man is named Vincent Cradeau (in the original French, he is Garcin) and Cradeau, dead now, was a collaborator during World War II and paid for his crime by being executed. Regen Wilson put out the energy needed to show he was both a sniveling coward and a raging, sexist-pig journalist.

The first woman to enter the room is Inez, the Lesbian who lured a married woman from her husband. The husband later meets a tragic end. The distraught widow turns on the gas and kills herself and Inez. Elle Wilhite ratchets up the heat inside the room with her compelling performance of a woman who fears nothing and seems to be at peace with her bad behavior. Wilhite makes Inez a very scary character.

Maura Stadem, a real looker with a great dress (costumes by Anne Paulus), plays the socialite Estelle who married an old man as a way to improve her financial status. Estelle has an affair with a man she doesn’t love, gets pregnant, takes an extended vacation with him to have the baby and then throws the child off their hotel balcony. Her lover kills himself. NoExitGals.jpgPhoto by Ian C. Armstrong

The bellboy (Chris Moss) dressed in pants that are too short is a geeky monster (think Lurch from The Addams Family) who later comes back wearing dark glasses and something looking like a motorcycle jacket. McNamara did a great job casting everyone and, oddly enough, making this production fun to see. The actors are good at modulated their laughing into hysteria.

The Dresser is revved now for the line up of French plays at Scena:

Jean Genet’s The Maids (Les Bonnes) November 9 - December 16, 2007

Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs March 1 - April 6, 2008

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot April 13 - May 25, 2008

Albert Camus’ The Camus Project: Caligula or the Stranger
June 3 - July 13, 2008

As a counter to Sartre’s closed door, the Dresser offers the open door announced in John Bradley’s poem “A Few Things You Should Know about Roberto.” The poem is from his collection Love-in-idleness: The Poetry of Roberto Zingarello. (Zingarello was a fiction but not the environment Bradley created in this work.)

A FEW THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT ROBERTO

Robert means, Hey you!
And, Everybody, shut up.
And, THIS DOOR IS A PUBLIC EXIT.
And, Poverty is the smell of the death of six o’clock.
And, In your cranium’s darkness, the coconut
white of a cactus flower.

Down the basement, doors lean about
like men in a bread line.
This is where Federico came to hide, in ’36.
I rip a page from my pocket Bible,
But Jesus said unto him, Follow me,
and let the dead bury their own dead,
and roll a cigarette with it.
Federico necks with his red guitar
while he plays his “Song While Hiding From Fascists.”

..... Steer me in the direction of the moon, any color moon.
.....Plant in my hand a knife, hard steel, hard wood.
.....Who is it, my friend, who is my enemy?
.....Blindfold me, so I may see him.
.....Tie it to my hand, the knife, so as to gore him.
.....Are you, my friend, my enemy?

The basement goes dark.
Some black dog flops down against the basement
window, stealing our light.
Tell me, amigo, Federico asks, like a voice
from a Spanish ballad, of your beloved.
Tell me, I reply, of Andalusia.

Roberto means, The milkweed down by the pumphouse.
And, I don’t know, comrades.
I just don’t know.
And, sometimes, Scram.
Roberto means, My mother slept with a crucifix
beneath her pillow, when she was pregnant,
so her son would be strong.
And, Love is not enough.
Nothing is ever enough.

Roberto means, I’m sick to death
of so much Roberto.
And, I want to be hemlock
so you can, finally, sleep.
But mostly it means, My mother
had one good thing happen to her
during this life, and it had to be
me, it had to be me.

by John Bradley
from Love-in-idleness: The Poetry of Roberto Zingarello

Copyright © 2007 John Bradley

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Comments (1)

Karren is illuminating as always. NO EXIT is part of all our lives if we are theater goers "of a certain age." Glad to be reminded of this play's terrifying power. Grace Cavalieri

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on October 21, 2007 10:02 PM.

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