Eternity can be a very long time. The very concept of it is a difficult one to grasp, yet Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit deals with it in a unique and effective way. Rodney Hakim's production of the show, currently appearing as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival, is not perfect, but captures the essence of Sartre's work almost perfectly.
Hakim has directed Stuart Gilbert's translation of the play with a very keen eye, bringing out the play's true essence while slightly deviating from typical scenic conventions. Though the dialogue still indicates the setting is a French drawing room, the setting for this production is completely black with the primary features being three black folding chairs downstage, and a black door and mantelpiece upstage.
Hakim's simplicity of staging suits the show very well, for what else would one expect of Hell? It is there that the pacifist Garcin (Frank Tangredi), the commonplace Inez (Phyllis March), and the vain Estelle (Claudine Coffaro) are doomed to spend eternity under the guard of the local Valet, played by Stephen T. Wagner. The visitors in hell are not tortured by fire and brimstone, but rather by each other. Their unraveling of their own lives and the understandings they reach as they begin their eternity together are what comprise the play.
Yet, despite there being very little action, Hakim has made sure the show is not dull for a moment. It is properly paced, the moments all properly weighted, and the drama and humor meted out in just the right amounts. His staging of the show in the intimate New 42nd Street Theatre brings the audience still closer to the action, making the character's plights all the more significant.
Each of the actors is able to bring out the qualities of annoyance that are so necessary in the show, while not drawing focus from the others. Each actor makes significant creative contributions to the show, though unfortunately not consistently. That is the one major problem with them (and the show as a whole): The actors' performances and relationships too frequently seem to be a step or two behind the developments in the script. When this occurs, it does detract from the otherwise tight nature of the production.
However, when the actors catch up, the show ignites and becomes gripping and engrossing again. Regardless of how long Inez, Estelle, and Garcin spend trapped in hell, in this production of No Exit the time passes all too quickly and never ceases to be entertaining along the way.