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What: Tacoma Actors Guild's "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre
When: Through Nov. 16
Where: Theatre on the Square, 915 Broadway
Running time: 1:40, no intermission
Tickets: $20-$28 general, $12.50 under age 18
Information: 253-272-2145

'No Exit' brings in 'elephant'

JEN GRAVES; The News Tribune

At times I gazed with longing at the theater's exit doorways, clearly marked in green at the sides of the stage.

The worst was in the middle of Tacoma Actors Guild's "No Exit," when Jean-Paul Sartre's three damned characters broke into "Dust in the Wind," accompanied by a hellaciously ill-advised, tongue-wagging guitar solo by their valet.

Yet somehow, unforgettably good images appeared, too. An unscripted, barely lit crone at center stage - Satan herself? - brought a mug slowly to her lips before total darkness, and the start of the play. A foreshortened white room slid, menacingly, toward the audience. An eerie glow crept up on Garcin, Inez and Estelle.

This is what happens when director Leland Patton comes to town and unleashes the theater's designers. Most times, his audaciously tarted-up productions work. "Dial M for Murder" had its sexually enticing, slow-mo homicide. "Terra Nova" had Antarctic blackouts. But Patton's tight grip strangled the Victorian thriller "Gaslight."

And now, rock 'n' roll "No Exit" brings on the best and worst of Pattonania.

First, the bad news. The Kansas-karaoke interlude may be intended to mock the high seriousness of Sartre's claims. But the play is highly serious nonetheless, except now it has a big, weird white elephant in the middle. James Fulkerson plays the valet and therefore is doomed, in an otherwise amusingly campy performance replete with full-body cackle, to shove the play over the top by channeling Kiss.

The good news is that "No Exit" has rarely radiated this much warmth. Patton gets laughs out of the dramatized piece of French philosophy. And he sympathizes with the characters, even giving them Alphaville's poignant 1984 hit "Forever Young" as their title song, played as they fade away in the finale.

" No Exit" is not known for its entertainment value. Its message is Sartre's proposal that relationships are toxic because we define ourselves through other people's eyes. Today, as we consider ourselves in terms of ethnic groups and power structures, Sartre's thinking seems impossibly localized. Patton plays up the intimacy.

And "No Exit" is a psychological trip, despite its lack of physical action. Because of their particular crimes in life, the cowardly Garcin (David Ivers), cruel Inez (the fantastic Kate Wisniewski) and vain Estelle (Amy McKenna) are suited to torture each other for eternity. That's why they're stuck in this room together. It's fun to watch them do it.

Patton and his crew - costumer Stephanie Poire, set designer Matthew Smucker, sound man Nathan H. Kahler and lighting designer Scott O'Donnell - drain the scenes of color, except in slide projections depicting the movie version of life on earth.

The director also toys with the audience.

Schmaltzy "Girl from Ipanema" muzak playing for the audience before the show also happens to be the soundtrack in hell. When the house lights go down, recorded cell phone rings clamor from the speakers. Maybe, I think, I am not supposed to like this play. Because surely, hell is other people's cell phones. Hell is a rock video. I start to look for those green lights.

Jen Graves: 253-597-8568
jen.graves@mail.tribnet.coy
If you go
What: Tacoma Actors Guild's "No Exit" by Jean-Paul Sartre
When: Through Nov. 16
Where: Theatre on the Square, 915 Broadway
Running time: 1:40, no intermission
Tickets: $20-$28 general, $12.50 under age 18
Information: 253-272-2145


  Jean Paul Sartre. A french philosopher of the 20th century.
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