Local Play Provides No Exit From Hellish Roommates
Although living with roommates may be hell for some, a local play is highlighting the real thing.
Debuting at Post Productions’ Shadowbox Theatre (located at 103B – 1501 Howard Avenue) on Friday, February 1st, Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit is being staged for the next three weekends.
Premiering in 1944, the story of three people trapped together in hell remains relevant, playing off themes of self-doubt, public perception and the afterlife: With the popularity of TV show The Good Place, it’s not a foreign notion either.
“No Exit is not really an ‘old play’ in the way that another play from 1944 might be,” said Michael O’Reilly, Post Productions’ artistic and No Exit director. “The themes are universal and not tied to an era. We don’t have to make a set that is an authentic version of Hell in 1944. In the same way that the Ted Danson character in The Good Place, (spoiler alert) a Hell architect, can dream up any kind of Hell that suits his whim, so can we.”
This flexibility also applied to the version of No Exit the group decided to use.
“Early on when we were still just talking and thinking about staging No Exit, we were working from a translation that was stiff and awkward, so we had some concerns about how it would resonate with audiences,” said Michael K. Potter, producer of the play and managing director of Post Productions. “We switched to the Paul Bowles translation because that’s what the publisher, Samuel French, uses and it’s worlds better. Bowles found a way to give the dialogue a loose and natural feel. It flows better, while retaining the poetry of Sartre’s writing.”
Based on a simple idea, the show revolves around three people who are terrible for each other as they become roommates for eternity in hell. Trapped in a room that’s locked on the outside with a bell for help that doesn’t work, the conflict at the heart of the play comes from simple human interaction.
The end result is a journey for everyone, characters and audiences alike.
“None of them are there by accident,” said Potter. “At the beginning of the play, Inez is the only one who sees herself as evil, but gradually the others come around. What does that mean for them? Whether there’s any hope of redemption is a question, I’d say, that’s answered by the end.”
After finishing 2018 with two elaborate stage productions, it’s no coincidence 2019 is starting with a smaller show: It’s something that gave everyone a much needed break and allowed them to focus on strong performances.
It ended up being perfect timing for the content as well.
“No Exit is a winter play,” said Potter. “The best time to see it is when the world outside is cold and dead. For this season in particular, we needed to do a small, logistically simple play after the one-two punch of Equus and Another F***ing Christmas Play. Both of those were large and complicated undertakings, leaving us utterly exhausted by the end of the year. We knew we’d have to make sure the first few plays of 2019 were smaller and simpler so we’d have time to recharge.”
Despite wanting to put on No Exit for a year-and-a-half, starting the season with it led to a tight turnaround. As a result, no open auditions were held and people were hand-picked for their strengths instead. This led to fewer complications and made the development process easier to manage.
Luckily, there was no shortage of talent in the local theatre scene.
” This is the fourth time Fay Lynn (Inez) and Potter (Cradeau) have gone toe to toe in a Post Productions show,” said O’Reilly. “Two were just them alone (Oleanna and Shelter in Place.) They are both fine actors and work together brilliantly, so I look forward to more. The very first time I met Alex Monk, the part of the Bellboy sprang up in my mind. He has great timing from years of improv and really looks the part. Elizabeth Dietrich (Estelle) is another example of how experienced comic actors are so perfect for tragedy. Liz brought edgy energy and emotion to the game — and this play is, in many ways, a game.”
The simplicity of casting continued through all aspects of the production as well.
“The set is beautiful, but simple,” said Potter. “It was designed by Matt Burgess, who’s designed the sets for our last six plays — so you KNOW it’s going to be something worth seeing. The sound and lighting design is also really simple, intended just to keep attention where it needs to be and set the right mood. Actors were given responsibility for their own costuming and they came through.”
As for the rest of 2019, Post Productions has a busy year ahead. With five-six plays planned, the group’s next show will be the Canadian premiere of Eve Lederman’s Nothing But the Truth in April. Focusing on a relationship that goes horribly wrong between a therapist and patient, the play was actually based on deposition transcripts from a real case.
From there, stage productions include David Mamet’s American Buffalo. The story is about three troublemakers whose friendship deteriorates due to a rare coin they want to steal. It’s something Potter says returns Post Productions to their infancy — the group’s very first play was also by Mamet.
Beyond that, there will be a diverse selection of performances to come.
“In September we have a double bill featuring the winners of the 2018 Playwriting Contest – Autopsy by No Exit’s Alex Monk (and A Hauntingin E Flat by Joey Ouellette,” said the managing director. “That’s going to be a lot of fun and will get people in the mood for Halloween. Then we end the season in November and December with Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, about a writer who’s arrested because his stories are eerily similar to a series of murders. In addition, we’re co-producing a series of musical performances directed by David Burrows at Rockstar. At this point it looks like each of these shows will run on two consecutive Saturdays, with the first (King of the World) scheduled for March 9th and 16th.”
Post Productions will also continue their educational classes. A series of workshops and courses taught by Eric Branget are scheduled in association with his Tall Tale Theatre Co. — further details can be found on Post Productions’ website.
No Exit will be performed for the first three Fridays and Saturdays in February, along with two weekly performances on Thursdays. With the latter beginning on Valentine’s Day, the theatre group is also offering a 10-per-cent discount on advance tickets for those going solo that night.
“It occurred to me when we were conceiving the poster, which features the tagline ‘Hell is other people,'” said Potter. “Why not offer something to those who might be feeling a little down because they don’t have a partner on Valentine’s Day? And also to those who don’t even want a partner. I haven’t seen a theatre company do that before. So I hope those who are alone come to see the show and feel a sense of connection and kinship with each other.”
Tickets for No Exit can be purchased at Post Productions’ website. All performances start at 8pm, with doors opening at 7:30.
“People should see No Exit if they want to have a good time during the show and leave with lots to talk about with friends,” said Potter. “We try to ensure that each of our productions is emotionally intense and thought-provoking, but our first responsibility is to tell a good, entertaining story.”
Judging by O’Reilly’s feelings on the material, this play has done both.
” I have been surprised, and even a little rattled, by how much No Exit makes you examine your life,” said the director. “I think it’s the clear, precise language of the Paul Bowles translation. Under his pen, the play became shorter, more distilled, more on point. Nothing is baffling or vague or oblique. It’s non-stop deal, deal, deal with your life — now! In hell.”