note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi
Valet … Remo Airaldi
Garcin … Will LeBow
Estelle … Karen MacDonald
Inez … Paula Plum
In Jean-Paul Sartre’s NO EXIT, written and premiered in Nazi-ruled France, a dead man and two dead women, each with a past, are sealed off in a room to torment each other forever with their incompatibility --- Hell, according to Mr. Sartre, being other people (what was his Heaven, then?); in the revived A.R.T. production, the entire set tilts with each step taken: here is another Hell, altogether. The A.R.T. always was a director’s/designer’s theatre and Jerry Mouawad’s gimmicky design undermines his directorial strengths: Mr. Sartre requests a room of Second Empire design; Mr. Mouawad’s is A.R.T.-Abstract and, again, tilts under human weight --- no doubt, to imply that incompatibility equals imbalance (imagine Strindberg, O’Neill or Albee being staged, this way) --- thus Mr. Mouawad misses Mr. Sartre’s point, two-fold: (a) the best Surrealism comes out of the commonplace and (b) a room with no moveable parts breathes “forever and ever and ever…”; with each tilt of Mr. Mouawad’s setting, eternity is disrupted --- in fact, I see no reason why Garcin, Estelle and Inez couldn’t have a merry old time see-sawing ad infinitum…
But to Mr. Mouawad’s strengths: aside from Remo Airaldi’s Valet, an A.R.T. Creature who doesn’t quit the scene when he should, Mr. Mouawad has drawn some of the best work thus far from Will LeBow, Karen MacDonald and Paula Plum --- not surprisingly, they are at their best when the room is balanced and they can concentrate on their portrayals rather than their ankles. Mr. LeBow is a bedrock actor: no matter the directorial vision, Mr. LeBow carries it out as realistically as possible and his Garcin is a detailed portrait of a Little Man who has died with nothing to show for it. Ms. Plum is saddled with a stock character --- the Predatory Lesbian --- but makes Inez work by playing her in period, i.e. not underlining every Sapphic glance or line reading. Best of all is Karen MacDonald’s Estelle, the aging beauty dependent upon others’ admiration --- warm A.R.T. memories are few and far-between, for me, but two have revolved around Ms. MacDonald: in THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, her nattering landlady endeared amidst the hideous mise-en-scène and in DIDO, QUEEN OF CARTHAGE, her Anna’s death-tableau with Iarbus was as moving as any good Pieta should be. Mr. Mouawad mines the Absurdist humor embedded in Mr. Sartre’s script, and Ms. MacDonald’s moment comes when she realizes she cannot murder Inez with a letter opener since she is already dead --- laughing hysterically, Ms. MacDonald mimes slashing her own wrist in demonstration, doubling her mirth, and ours; it is a human moment in an inhuman situation and, between Ms. MacDonald and her director, Estelle chooses to laugh rather than go mad over it.
David Remedios goes volume-happy with his soundtrack; Jeff Forbes nicely demonstrates that Expressionistic lighting can be a subtle art in itself --- ‘tis a gift to be simple.