Monday, November 9, 2009
At last: a No Exit I can live with
Plays I refuse to sit through again in this lifetime:
All My Sons
Feydeau’s idiotic so-called sex farces
Pretty much all Roman “comedies”
Butterflies Are Free
Although I must admit. There’s a passel of plays that always struck me as thunderously boring in their original forms that have received truly astonishing makeovers from gifted renovators – face-lifts so total as to make those plays entirely fresh experiences. The Wooster Group’s version of The Hairy Ape. Neal Bell’s transmogrification of that shabby little shocker, Thérèse Raquin. Steven Cosson’s uproarious revision of The Children’s Hour, retitled Fingered! (true, this was an out-and-out spoof, but still). And now, right here in Cascadia, Jerry Mouawad and Imago Theatre have actually made me enjoy my most abhorred script of all time, a threadbare little play I swore I would never attend again under any circumstances: No Exit.
The siren call that got to me get over myself was the casting: JoAnn Johnson, Maureen Porter and Tim True, three of Portland’s finest actors. Just as expected, they were superb in every way. What I didn’t expect was a set design (created by Jerry Mouawad, who also directed) that opened up the play’s meticulous triangulation in ways I had never imagined.
As conceived by Jerry, the room where the condemned are to spend eternity together is a flat plane in space, surrounded by infinite darkness on all sides. And it tips. The slightest imbalance puts one character radically downstage, another high in the air. Sudden feints cause the room to reel. Only a carefully choreographed suspension of emotional ballast keeps the room in equilibrium – the rueful state where the play comes to a rest.
Of course this is what the play is supposed to be about, but when have you ever seen this realized with No Exit? All the tension and drama I missed through years of seeing this play done badly melted away, and suddenly I saw the taut, thrilling drama Sartre must have originally envisioned.
Oh, I wanted to add that Maureen, Tim and JoAnn are ably aided by Bryce Flint-Somerville, who played the Valet with demonic glee and held his own with his colleagues. Ultimately, to be sure, this is a version of No Exit, but grab this chance to see what’s probably the only good production you’ll ever bear witness to. This weekend’s the last one of the run, and since Saturday was packed to the rafters -- literally -- I suggest you get tickets soon. Otherwise: No Entrance.