At Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport
Written by Jean-Paul Sartre
Directed by Sean Graney
Thru July 11th
Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
As suspected, hell is hot pink with mismatched chairs and no way out. The Hypocrites present NO EXIT at Athenaeum Theatre, an existentialist play by Jean-Paul Sartre. To atone for cruelty to others, three strangers are condemned to hell. Without any obvious commonalities, a journalist, post office clerk and society lady are forced to share a room together… forever. Sartre’s legendary line, ‘hell is others’ sums up the eternal punishment. There is no outside. There is no break. There is no sleeping. The living dead are locked in with only each other’s desires for company. To heighten their anguish, the ‘absentees’ get snippets of earthly lives without them. The only thing worse than going to hell is living in hell! The Hypocrites create an afterlife of primal urges without consequences. Desire is amplified with devilish humor to make NO EXIT damned funny!
Under Sean Graney’s direction, torture is inflicted with huge heaps of chaos in a teeny room. The close quarters accentuate the misery-loves-company nightmare. Leading the torment with demonic vigor, Samantha Gleisten plays it deliciously diabolical. Gleisten delivers a non-apologetic, ‘why did I hurt her? Because it was so easy.’ Adorned with baubles, ball gown and fake eyelashes, Erin Barlow is hilarious as a spoiled princess type. She shudders out an ‘I loathe men in shirt sleeves’ announcement with exaggerated ladylike fragility. Later, Barlow confesses an unconscionable crime with matter-of-fact iciness. Robert McLean (Garcin) begins as a potentially endearing guy in search of a toothbrush. Later, his torment of his wife aka ‘victim by vocation’ is despicable. The trio are rotten-to-the-core delectable. John Taflan (Valet) is the host from hell and introduces the living arrangements with comedic absurdity.
Using a real theatrical curtain for a ta-da-this-is-the-set moment engages laughter immediately. Tom Burch (Scenic Designer) has created a startling look with a hot pink triangular room. It is bizarrely furnished with a giant nude statue and mismatched chairs. The door is horizontal. Once the show begins the unique look becomes secondary to the mess created by the inhabitants. Alison Siple (Costume Designer) has dressed the deceased in elegant finery with a twist. All the costumes have an animal print lining. As the action goes topsy-turvy, the costumes go inside-out brilliant. The action stops abruptly in an exhausted ‘forever’ reality. NO EXIT gets it right with those who did wrong.
Graney must have sold his soul to the devil to get this trip to hell to be a blaze of glory.
Realizing the theatre seats might be an extension of the hellish set, James describes the show with “Solid Satanic Satire.”
WAITING FOR THE SHOW
After hearing the confessions of sinners, it seems right to head to Temple… Temple Bar, 3001 N. Ashland. Formerly known as Fearons, Temple Bar is the upgraded version with a paint job, enhanced menu and stellar service. A little claustrophobic from watching three battle out eternity, we sit outside despite the threatening skies. I order up the steak sandwich with mushrooms on a pretzel roll. Heavenly! James goes for the shrimp poor boy and side salad. Our server is beyond efficient with refills on ice tea and water. A real angel! It’s apparent that we ended up in ‘the good place’ despite some questionable weekend antics.