Snowglobe’s No Exit:
Hell is Other People
Play invokes literary visits to hell over the years
By Byron Toben
The eclectic Snowglobe Theatre keeps mixing them up. After an initial Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing) and a revisiting of the movie His Girl Friday, capped by a one-act opera double bill, it recently put on a dynamic but all too short run of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existential one act about Hell, No Exit.
There have been myriad plays, writings, comics and video games portraying that fabled place, both in ancient times and present. Before Sartre, other literary greats having a go at describing Hell include Virgil (Aeneid), Dante (Inferno), Milton (Paradise Lost), Swift (The Place of the Damned) and Goethe (Faust).
All these eminent gentlemen depict it as a place of torment and torture, plastered with vile substances.
I prefer a more humourous treatment, such as Mark Twain’s quip, “Go to Heaven for the climate, but Hell for the company”.
G. Bernard Shaw, of course, wrote the wonderful stand alone one-act play Don Juan in Hell within his lengthy opus Man and Superman, in which the conclusion was that the difference was a matter of temperament and the transition back and forth not difficult.
Côte Saint-Luc mayor Mitchell Brownstein, himself both a theatre producer and an immigration attorney, tells of an auto accident victim having an out of body experience in Hell and finding the reception there of wine and talk to his liking. Recovering and finally dying years later, he chooses Hell as his final destination. The shocker is that this time he is greeted with pincers and hot irons. The Devil explains, “Last time you came as a tourist; this time you’re a resident.”
Back to Sartre.
In this 1944 drama, a pleasant Valet, pillbox hat and all, but with enigmatic comments (Guy Nguyen) welcomes a recently deceased journalist Garcin (Alex Goodrich, a veteran of several Persephone productions) to his room, an ordinary living room with three sofas. No torture, no pincers, just boredom and a bell to summon the valet back (but it often doesn’t work).
There have been myriad plays, writings, comics and video games portraying that fabled place, both in ancient times and present.
Later, the Valet escorts a second occupant, hard-nosed Inez (Samantha Bitonti, who had appeared in Snowglobe’s Much Ado About Nothing) who professes to hate everybody. Not a nice roommate.
Finally, a third occupant is brought, flirtatious Estelle (Zamera Amy Topolovec, whom I remember as the boy guide in Raise The Stakes Theatre’s impressive Antigone last winter).
The inner conflicts and differences of the trio build up but there is no escape from each other. Yet when the door briefly opens, they each fear to flee into they know not what. Shades of Hamlet’s “Thus does conscience make cowards of us all…”
The whole ends with Sartre’s oft quoted “Hell is Other People” which he later explained not to be the other people as such, but our own impression of what we think Les autres think of us.
‘Hopefully, he (Jon Greenway) and co-producer Peter Giser may find an opportunity to remount this thinking person’s play again for a longer period.’
Director/co-producer Jon Greenway, an escapee from Vancouver and an absurdist theatre devotee, handled the 85-minute show’s pacing well. Hopefully, he and co-producer Peter Giser may find an opportunity to remount this thinking person’s play again for a longer period.
No Exit played at the Mainline theatre July 5 to 8.
For future events visit SnowglobeTheatre.org
Images: courtesy Snowglobe Theatre
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Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.