In the French, Jean Paul Sartre's No Exit is a sometimes funny, fast-paced examination of the author's hell-is-other-people philosophy. In this Rude Guerrilla production (based on a new translation by Andrew Nienaber), No Exit is unfunny and slow and (come to think of it) an awful lot like hell itself.
Sartre's premise remains the same in either language: due to budget overruns and increasing traffic, the damned are no longer put through the time-consuming, inefficient rigors of everlasting physical torture. Instead, they are merely sorted like mail and placed into small, sealed chambers with roommates hand-selected to be their worst nightmare. It's a kind of self-service hell.
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Into a chamber with three sofas, a lamp, a sculpture and a letter opener, the Valet (Rod Surratt) throws three representatives of our species: Garcin (Bryan Jennings), a pacifist journalist; Inez (Amy Louise Sebelius), an emotionally manipulative lesbian; and Estelle (Ashley Alexandra Bretz), a guttersnipe who landed a rich old husband.
Nienaber's translation is mostly smooth —particularly given the dense philosophical subject. But director Jeff Marx leaves much of the script's humor withering in numerous pauses. The program lists the running time at one hour and 20 minutes, but my watch timed it at closer to an hour and 40 minutes—a slow hour-40. That relativity in time may be the result of characters that aren't terribly complicated or particularly enjoyable to watch. Garcin is a whiny little bitch in search of some balls (his pacifism a small mask for his immense cowardice), Inez is a sculptor of souls looking for some clay, and Estelle is merely vapid, searching for meaning on the arm of a man. There really is no change in the three. The revelations about their sins ultimately don't matter since the basic relationships and attitudes are left dismally unaffected by all that happens. These are less people than caricatures.
If, as Sartre suggested, hell is other people, here's hoping that there's an especially nasty place in hell reserved for people who produce good plays badly.
no exit at the Empire Theatre, 200 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 547-4688. fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2:30 p.m. Through July 16. $10.