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TRME's No Exit uneven, but morbid and funny

NO EXIT

Written by Jean-Paul Sartre.

Directed by M. E. Hunter W '91.

Tech Random Music Ensemble.

Kresge Little Theatre, March 2, 8 pm.

BY DAVE WATT

ALTHOUGH MARRED by uneven acting, Tech Random Music Ensemble's production of Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit gave a funny, nasty look at three thoroughly unlikable characters who can't help torturing one another with mind games.

No Exit takes place in hell. But Sartre's hell has no fire, nor instruments of torture, nor even toothbrushes, as the bellhop (Paula Cuccurullo '91), is quick to point out. Instead, this hell is a hotel with inattentive room service, tacky furniture and rooms that lock from the outside. Hell is hot, and has no privacy, no night, and no sleep; everyone is awake, and watching you all the time. It is a roach motel for people, who in Kafka's world, might have been roaches themselves: They check in, but they don't check out.

The characters have earned their places in hell, but they all profess innocence at first. Garcin (Johnathon Kharfen '93) was a French journalist (a pacifist, he protests) who collaborated with the Nazis; Inez (Kelly Marold '92) is a scheming, manipulative lesbian who so stifled her on-earth lover that the woman turned on the gas stove in their apartment while Inez slept, killing them both; and Estelle (Michelle Kim '94) is a prissy social climber who married for money, took a younger, impoverished lover, and killed the baby she and her lover had by throwing it from a seaside hotel into the ocean, even though he wanted to keep the child.

Despite their initial denials, all three know deep down they belong in hell, and the knowledge of their own flaws makes them vulnerable. For a time, each of them can see in their minds' eyes how people on earth have reacted to their deaths, and for a time, that is torture enough.

Each character sees in one of the others his or her salvation: Inez lusts after Estelle, Estelle wants Garcin, and Garcin wants neither woman but desperately needs to convince everyone around him -- especially Inez -- that he wasn't a coward for collaborating.

Despite the fact that these three unlikable people really need one another, each is incapable of giving of him- or herself. In fact, they take pleasure in jerking around the one who needs them the most. The spite and anger and dependence of the three create the black humor of the play.

Each actor had strong and weak moments on stage. While I thought Michelle Kim acted wonderfully snotty and nouveau riche, and delivered a terrific soliloquy describing how she threw her newborn from the hotel, she didn't convince me that she really objected to Inez' early advances. In one scene, Inez invites Estelle to gaze into her eyes. Estelle, in desperate need for a mirror, any mirror, to check her lipstick, accepts. Inez puts her hand on Estelle's leg, and edges close to her, but Estelle doesn't really seem disquieted by Inez' attentions. When she soon after says to Inez, "But I wish he'd [Garcin] take notice of me," Inez explodes at her, and at Garcin. But I didn't find that blowup credible, because Kim hadn't really seemed afraid of Inez.

Kelly Marold as Inez had many of the most biting lines in the play, and she delivered them with obvious relish and seemingly genuine sadism. She had subtle, effective gestures as well. Near the end of the play, Garcin asks Estelle if she thinks him a coward. A nervous edge in his voice, he tells her that he does not want to be thought a coward, and that he needs her and her approval. As Estelle reassures him, Marold sits and watches with growing interest, leans forward, smiles, puts her hand to her mouth, and finally breaks out in sarcastic laughter. She then demolishes Garcin, by telling him that Estelle would tell him anything to get him to love her. Her buildup to this scene was wonderful to watch.

Inez had two sides -- she seduces as she bends people to her will. Marold's brassy stage voice, which worked well for a sadist, did not make her a convincing temptress. Perhaps Marold should have adopted a second, more melodic voice as well, and moved between the two. The combination might have made her sadistic moments even more sinister.

Johnathon Kharfen as Garcin acted, well, repressed. In part that's the character, who spends most of the play worrying more about how people on earth remember him than about the two women around him. But the scenes in which Estelle threw herself at him, and he responded, were awkward. Kim and Kharfen didn't even kiss as they put their arms around one another. Had they been more hot and heavy on stage, with Inez there watching, it would have been anger and sadism reciprocated. I was surprised that they didn't throw themselves into it more. Clothes should have been flying.

The play ran about an hour and a half without intermission. (As the program warns, there is no intermission in hell.) Alas, this review comes out too late for you to go see TRME's show. It was worth the money for those who did, despite its flaws.