On the screens (l to R) Laara Sadiq as Inex, Andy Thompson as Cradeau, Lucia Frangione as Estelle and Jonathon Young as The Valet in The Virtual Stage and Electric Company Theatre’s groundbreaking reinvention of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential classic.

NO EXIT by Jean Paul Sartre. Adapted from the French by Paul Bowles. Conceived and directed by Kim Collier for The Virtual Stage and Electric Company. American Conservatory Theater (A.C.T.), 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108. 415.749.2228 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 415.749.2228 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or


It seems that each year a theatre group will mount No Exit since it has only four characters, one of whom appears briefly, requires only a single unadorned set with three pieces of furniture and minimal props. Then there is the pretentious justification that this existentialist play is loaded with the universal truth that “Hell is other people.” Cutting Ball’s production was the last to grace the boards in the Bay Area with a stunning bare bones staging. If you are a Jean-Paul Sartre aficionado, and even if you are not, get thee hence to see the Canadian staging that will keep you riveted to the screens.

Yes, the screens, plural. The Virtual Stage and Electric Company Theatre’s groundbreaking reinvention of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential classic is staged as a film with three separate screens mounted high on a bleak wall of the decrepit exterior of the L’Hotel. A bellhop, The Valet (Jonathon Young)) speaks by telephone to an unseen “uncle” who lives on the third floor. The Valet communicates with the audience by written signs and gives permission to begin the play. Expanding The Valet’s role is an ingenious conceit allowing intriguing stage action in front of the screens and occasional interaction with the players thus adding humor and another layer of interpretation for the audience to fathom.

Cradeau (Andy Thompson) enters, accompanied with a blinding white stream of light as he is taken across the stage strewn with electrical paraphernalia to a solid bolted white door. As they enter the unseen off-stage room, their images appear on a screen showing they are in “the” room. . . the room where he will spend eternity. He recognizes he is dead and in hell. Two women will join him and all expect to be tortured. Behind that locked door, no torturer arrives and they only hell they will endure is each other.

Sartre is ingenious in creating his three characters with individual traits that will amplify his thesis about the true nature of Hell. Inez (Laara Sadiq) is a sadistic lesbian. Estelle Lucia Frangione) is a attractive blonde devourer of men and Cradeau a cowardly, Nazi collaborator who has been executed by a firing squad. Director Kim Collier manipulates her three characters adroitly as they move from the room to the screens. All three give engrossing performances reflecting the sins that earned them a spot in Hell.

Cradeau’s other blatant sin involved bringing his paramours home allowing his wife to bring them coffee in their communal bed without regard for the shame heaped on his wife who commits suicide after his death.

Lesbian Inez, truly a cruel person has turned a wife against her husband and later murders him. Inez’s death at the hands of the tormented wife/lover is almost poetic justice. In Hell she remains the manipulative bitch and pits Cradeau and Estelle against each other.

Vain Estelle married for financial gain with a loveless marriage. She justifies an affair with a younger man. When she becomes pregnant by him and delivers a child, she callously drowns the child leading to the suicide by the distraught lover. There are no mirrors in hell and Inez allows Estelle to see herself through Inez’s eyes. Huge mistake.

In the original French version and subsequent translations, the end is a simple statement. The three recognize that the only hell is within their relationship and decide that if each remains silent they can endure. After a short period, Inez says, “Let’s get on with it.” In the present version, the director has suggested that their hell shall be repeating for eternity the staging of the play. Running time 80 minutes without intermission and the opportunity to go back stage to view the technical set. Do not miss this visually stunning play with great acting. Do take the back stage tour.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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