Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pearl Theatre Company Presents A Lustrous Production of "No Exit" by Jean Paul Sartre

The current production of "No Exit" presented by The Pearl Theatre Company was my first exposure to this group that regularly produces stage classics.  It will certainly not be my last visit.  This production is stunning in its design and execution.  Directed by Linda Ames Key, the cast of two men and two women are flawless in their interpretations of Sartre's hellish characters who serve as one another's tormentors in the embodiment of the author's iconic line: "Hell is other people."

I must also add that the rest of the creative team have done a "hell of a job" in creating an ecosystem in which the actors are able to tell their stories.  The set designed by Harry Feiner, lighting designed by Ann Wrightson, costumes by Devon Painter and the sound designed by Jane Shaw all work together synergistically to welcome the audience into the deceptively bland space that looks like a three-star hotel suite or a dentist's waiting room.

When he wrote it in 1944, Sartre's drama was deeply influenced by the experience of his France being occupied by the Nazis, and by his own seven months of confinement as a prisoner of war.  But the philosophical and existential elements of the play are universal and transcend his personal experience and his nation's fate.

A man and two women are thrown into a room that is clearly meant to portray hell.  Their destiny is to serve as one another's tormentors for eternity.  The set looks like a normal and banal hotel room, but behind scrims along the three walls are apparently random collections of broken objects from everyday life.  At the outset of the action of the play, the objects can be perceived only dimly by the audience.  I quickly determined that for me they represented the wreckage of the lives that the three characters had lived on earth before being condemned to spend eternity together in this space.  As the action unfolds and they begin to tell each other about the lives they had lived that had led to their condemnation to this place, the lights on the "wreckage" slowly brighten, and we see more and more details of what lies behind the scrims.  This is a brilliant artistic choice, and adds to the depth of this production's impact.

Bradford Cover is Cradeau, an intellectual journalist.  Pete McElligott is the valet who ushers each occupant into the room.  Jolly Abraham is Inez, a high society coquette who flirts shamelessly with Cradeau.  Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris is Estelle, a sharp and sharp-tongued working class woman. These four are perfectly cast in their respective roles.  At various times, the three occupants of the room taunt, tease, challenge, torment, seduce and attempt to comfort each other.  They slowly begin to come to terms with the inconceivable concept that they will be together like this forever.  They are stuck with each other.  And that seems to be Sartre's ultimate message and challenge to us all: We are stuck with one another on this planet from which there is no exit, so let's try not to make it hell for one another.

This is theater at a very high level of professionalism.  It comes with my strong recommendation.

The show will run through March 30 at 555 West 42nd Street.

Pearl Theatre Company Website: No Exit

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