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Monday, April 11, 2011

A.C.T. Stages Sartre's Claustrophobic Nightmare in No Exit

Posted on Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 3:30 PM

Jean-Paul Sartre was an existentialist, not an optimist. "Hell is other people," he said. To demonstrate, he wrote No Exit, an adaptation of which opens this week at American Conservatory Theater. It's a one-act play in which one man and two women are confined in a hotel room. Each has major flaws. The man has led a cowardly and callous life; he's an army deserter who has blatantly cheated on his wife. One of the women is a lesbian who has psychologically manipulated another woman and turned her against her husband to the point of murder; she openly admits her cruelty. The second female character is materialistic and married for money; she later had a baby with an illicit lover, then drowned the child and caused her lover's suicide. Being together is not the hell they'd imagined, but their competing motivations, desires, and needs for validation eventually prove to be torture enough. They cannot escape each other or (more importantly) themselves.

In this adaptation, A.C.T. has the help of Canadian experimental troupe the Electric Company Theatre and its Virtual Stage. The characters are locked inside a big box, and the Virtual Stage (via cameras inside the box) projects their actions onto three large screens. Only one character -- the valet who led them to the room -- remains outside. During a Canadian production of the play, the Calgary Herald called the setup "diabolically inventive." Sounds like hell to us.

No Exit opens Wednesday at 8 p.m. (with a preview on Tuesday; the play continues through May 1) at American Conservatory Theater. Admission is $7.50-$88.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.

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