Whether it’s performed as “No Way Out,” “Vicious Circle,” “Behind Closed Doors,” “Dead End” (which I especially like), or “No Exit” (its most common interpretation), playwright Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist nightmare is one powerful piece of theater.
The play begins with the Valet (the knowing Jouni Kirjola) ushering a man into a nondescript room. Two others soon join him in the chamber, which begins to seem like something from the Eagles’ “Hotel California”: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”
The three doomed (or damned) souls are Joseph Garcin (Bert Andersson), Estelle Kigault (Amber Lucito) and Inez Serrano (Joelle Robertson). Each knows where he or she is (Hell) and why he or she got there, but none is willing to admit the true nature of the sin that got them punished thusly. They all had expected flames and a torturer, someone to punish them for eternity. Garcin says he was shot for being a pacifist (and Andersson capably carries off the deserter’s bluff for a good long time); Estelle insists that she is there by mistake (and Lucito is just fragile-looking enough to sell her “pneumonia” story – for a while); Inez (Joelle Robertson, intense and demanding one’s attention) is the only one to insist that they tell the truth (hers involved a lesbian affair with resulting horrible consequences).
As the play progresses, Inez’s contention proves true, that it is no accident they have ended up in the same room together. It becomes clear that they are each other’s torturers. Or, as Sartre, through Garcin, puts it: “Hell is other people.”
Benjamin T. Ismail directs this impressive production, manipulating lighting (designed by Nic Candito) and video projections (directed by Ruby Sketchley and produced and edited by David “Sketch” Sketchley) to enhance and not distract from the intense exchanges among the actors.
“No Exit” is just the latest example of the excellent, imaginative work of this scrappy little theater company. BIT matches or bests most professional companies in town.
“No Exit” is presented Thursday through Saturday evenings through July 25 at 8pm. Tickets are $10 for “Thrifty Thursdays” and $20 at the door for all other shows. Recent performances have sold out, so it is advisable to purchase tickets in advance: by phone at (916) 960-3036 or online at bigideatheatre.org.