So that is what hell is. I would never have believed it. You remember: the fire and brimstone, the torture. Ah! the farce. There is no need for torture: Hell is other people.
So according to French philosopher and all-around literary man Jean-Paul Sartre, it’s not the situation you’re in but the people who surround you that makes it feel like hell. That’s an acceptable explanation. How many of us have people in our lives, family, friends, co-workers or just everyday people, who make us, want to choke the life out of them? Well, the individuals in No Exit are about to go through that horrible experience.
All three characters have passed away and now share a barely furnished one room —a couple of Victorian couches and a bronze torso with a letter opener next to it— Who’s going to receive mail? Anyways, they must deal with each other. There are no windows or mirrors. Each damaged soul is welcomed with an icy demeanor by the no-nonsense and expressionless valet (the wonderful Barbera Ann Howard) who escorts them individually. How hellish indeed! Writer Joseph Garcin (extraordinarily played by Matt Fowler) is the first to arrive. He was a military deserter who cheated on his dutiful wife. He even had the nerve to bring his mistress to his home and have his wife serve them coffee in bed. Seriously? Yes, unfortunate but true. As Garcin relays his sad tale, the two women don’t think much of him. Not because he’s a cheater but he isn’t worth giving a second thought about. There’s the lesbian mail clerk Inés Serrano (gotta love Erica Edd’s gangsta swagger on this role) who’s stern looking face could probably turn anyone into stone. She relishes the thought how she seduced her cousin’s wife and later wifey turned against her man. Estelle Rigault (another great talent Kristen Egermeier) is a blond fountain of beauty and little brain. She honestly believes that she’s misplaced and the matter will soon be cleared up. Estelle conveniently forgets that when she was alive she aborted her baby as a result from an affair. Joseph also believes it’s a mistake where he is. Only Inés accepts the fact she’s right where she’s supposed to be because she is cruel and evil.
Of course, the first thing they do is escape, but cannot. The door is locked from the outside. Through an invisible portal, all three get the opportunity to see how their friends and family are doing without them. Garcin sees his wife holding his bullet-ridden body; he was shot numerous times especially in the chest. It is then; he actually shows remorse, though for a few nanoseconds for his now widowed wife. What becomes a mystery to Joseph and Estelle is clear to Ines. They were placed together to torture each other. Garcin finally gets it and has the last say, “Well, well, let’s get on with it…”
With minimal fixtures on stage to block or assist the actors, they use themselves as objects and as beings to bring out the essence of the story. Each personality crashes into each other like a horrific masterpiece of raw emotion and reflects it back to them. And it isn’t always a pretty sight. Inés is the only one who accepts what she is and doesn’t begin to cover it up or say it was a mistake like Garcin and Estelle. She takes her punishment well. She probably laughs inside as she watches the other two try unsuccessfully to believe the stories they wrote for themselves. Fowler, Edd and Egermeier make a fantastic team and Howard does a sensational job in keeping the visitors in check with her indifferent stare.
No Exit plays Thursday, October 29th at 8 p.m., Saturday, October 31st at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., Sunday, November 1st at 4 p.m. at Oh My Ribs! Theatre located at 6468 Santa Monica Blvd, near Wilcox in Hollywood. For ticket information, call (818) 765-8732 or log on to www.interactla.org.