The French existentialist Jean–Paul Sartre’s play Huis–Clos arrived on Broadway in 1946, adapted into English, by Paul Bowles, as No Exit.
The one–act play can be summarized in one of the most famous lines from Sartre’s original script: “Hell is other people.”
A Collective Face production opens this weekend at Muse Arts Warehouse, directed by David I.L. Poole.
No Exit, which has become one of theater’s most reliable dramatic mind–benders in its 60–some years of performance all over the world, concerns three individuals — all of whom have recently been executed — who meet in what they believe is Hell’s waiting room.
Cardeau, Estelle and Inez are delivered to an elegantly–furnished (in 1940s style) room by a strange, uniformed valet.
Here’s the catch, says Matt O’Boyle, who plays the cowardly and sadistic Cardeau in the Savannah production: “These people are plain despicable. And each one has justified their actions in some way or form.”
As the three converse, and manipulate one another, they (along with the audience) discover that it’s not the waiting room, it’s damnation itself.
Welcome to existentialism.
“The way David wants it performed, the light he’s putting it in, is as a dark comedy,” O’Boyle explains.
Which poses a challenge for the actors.
“First of all, it’s just playing or exaggerating those characteristics,” says O’Boyle. “Their facade. My character’s biggest goal in life isn’t money, it isn’t love, it’s to be a man. And whatever that image of ‘being a man’ is. So I up the machismo, and the cheesiness, to 11. And the comedy comes from there.”
In Poole’s version, Maggie Lee Hart plays the adulterous Estelle, and Alexis Mundy is Inez, a lesbian who murdered her lover’s husband.
Michael Knowles plays the valet.
The three leads last worked together, under Poole, in Angels in America, Part One.
For the 21–year–old O’Boyle, No Exit is the sixth play he’s appeared in over the last 13 months. And three of those have been directed by David Poole.
A film and theater major at SCAD, O’Boyle had lead roles in Fahrenheit 451, Dog Sees God and the school’s recent References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot.
He was also in the adaptation of Frankenstein that Poole directed at Savannah State University (Michael Knowles was in that show, too).
“I am surprised that I’m doing as much theater as I am,” says the South Florida native. “But I’ve been able to budget my time enough that I’m able to do it all.”
For him, “it all” means a web series, student films and stage plays.
Film, in fact, is his major at SCAD. “My ultimate goal is to be a writer/director/actor,” he explains. “That’s the dream, to have some kind of balanced career doing each of those things.
“Being versatile and multi–talented really serves you well out there. For an actor, it’s very tough to just be an actor because you’re always waiting on the part, you’re always waiting for you to be right for a role, or for someone to recognize something in you.”
After six plays in the space of a year, O’Boyle has developed a theory about his ability to learn and retain so many lines.
“I guess you empathize enough with the character that when you hear your scene partner say something, you just know immediately what you would say back,” he says.
“Knowing your lines comes from knowing the character.”
One more for the stage
First performed in 2006, Naomi Iizuka’s play Anon(ymous) is a loose contemporary adaptation Homer’s The Odyssey, in which a young refugee wanders through America, encountering a wide variety of people – “some kind, some dangerous and cruel” – as he searches for his family.
The young man’s name is Anon.
“When I was creating the play, I very much wanted it to be a sensory experience that would contain within it all the sights and sounds of many different kinds of Americas,” said Iizuka, whose other works include Language of Angels, And Then She Was Screaming and 36 Views.
“Whether that’s a family–run Indian restaurant or the desert landscape on the border of Mexico,” Iizuka continued, “I wanted the overall experience of this play to be more than just watching a play. I wanted to create a sense of lots of different worlds colliding.”
SCAD is doing Anon(ymous) this weekend at Arnold Hall, 1810 Bull St. Shows are at 8 p.m. March 3–5, and 3 p.m. March 6.
General admission is $10 public, or $5 with valid senior, student, military or SCAD ID. On May 3 only, a SCAD ID will get you in free.
Direction is by David Storck.
The Collective Face: No Exit
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Road
When: At 8 p.m. May 4, 5, 10–12; at 3 p.m. May 6
Tickets: $15 general admission; $10 students/seniors