Sunday, February 10, 2008

An existential evening with Sartre and Beckett

For some, three and a half hours of live theatre is too much to take, let alone two plays that deal with the intolerableness of knowing that life ends in nothingness. I could not resist the double bill on offer from The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

The evening got off to a hellish start with Sartre's No Exit. This is a play I've read, but never seen and I was so thrilled to finally see it live before me. If you don't know the story, in essence it is about three bad people who die and go to hell. Hell is a hotel room furnished with shabby 2nd Empire furnishings, including a mantlepiece containing an immobile bronze stature and a sharp letter opener. A valet shows three people through the door, which locks behind them. Two women and a man are trapped together forever -- each attracted to the one who doesn't return the feeling, in a round robin of perpetual frustration. "Hell is other people," says one of the characters.

Some of the audience members may have thought that hell was sitting through this production, as many left at intermission. Wimps! They do not realize that Sartre's play is deliberately torturous. He gives us the experience of what eternity might be like, and it isn't pleasant!

The production worked its torture on me, chiefly in terms of the lighting, which glared into my eyes and made them itch and droop. The acting was suitably charged with the tensions of crimes and punishments and the overall effect was sufficiently suffocating and interminable.

After intermission, the set had been changed to meet the requirements of Sam Beckett's post-nuclear landscape play, End Game. If you've never seen it, I can only ask, "Why not?" I've seen it many times in my life and I will never turn down the opportunity to see it again. This production was very well done, with a commedia Clov, a tragical-comical Hamm, and a Nel and Nagg of the dustbins beautifully rendered.

I first came into contact with this play as a teenager, working on a n ill-fated production as stage manger. (We never opened after weeks and weeks of rehearsals, due to some major personality conflicts among cast and director.) After decades, the characters still haunt me and the lines resonate to something deep inside, something that shaped my philosophy toward life and existence way back in the 60s. "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness," says Hamm. The audience laughs at that, because if we didn't we'd be crying constantly.

1 comment:

Valérie said...


My name is Valérie and I am sorry to bother you because it is a strange reason that I am here for.

But first let me say that I feel embarrassed that I am French I I have never read anything of Jean-Paul Sartre - but I know the owner of the blog I go to daily is quite a big fan. The blog is called Pourquoi Pas.

Anyway the main reason I am writing is that I am looking for someone who calls himself Romeo. He used to be on that same blog every day, he is arab American and he recently left abruptly.

I have searched with google but not luck so far, and because there is a guy named Microdot who has mentioned you, and he is also often on Pourquoi Pas, I thought I would come and visit you and see if Romeo is here.

If you here from him, tell him I miss him and I have no way to get in contact with him personally so could he please come back to Pourquoi Pas and I'll make my email address public for him?

Thank you very much,