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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Conversations in hell: Talking with director of ‘No Exit’

Published: November 12, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

The set-up is this: A group of strangers enter a room; it is hell. They wait for something dreadful to happen but nothing does. Trapped for an eternity, with nothing but each other’s company and conversation to occupy them, they discover that they are each other’s hell. The Free Play Theatre Cooperative transforms the Mandel Center Lounge into hell as they put on Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist play “No Exit.”

The Brandeis Hoot interviewed director Tony Rios ’11 via e-mail about Sartre’s interpretation of the underworld.

The Brandeis Hoot: What drew you to Sartre’s “No Exit?”

Tony Rios: I was drawn to the play because of how complex and dense it was. Each time I read it, a scene gained a different layer, or I saw a character in a new light. The themes and images of the show are intense, beautiful and disturbing all at the same time.

BH: Why did you pick the Mandel Center Lounge as the setting for hell?

TR: Since this show is being put on by Free Play Theatre Cooperative, the use of an alternative space was greatly encouraged. I knew the piece had no place in a theater the moment that I read it, so this was a match made in heaven. After creepin’ around campus for a bit and looking at spaces, this one blew me away: the lights, the towering windows, the elevator and the big open space all enthralled me.

BH: What are the challenges of putting on a one-act play? What are the benefits?

TR: This is my second time directing a play without an intermission, so I guess this is the only way I know. The benefits I feel are tremendous. The actors work so hard at building the energy in the room, an intermission would just pull the carpet out from under them. With a one-act play, we’re able to see the energy, the stakes and the tension of the room pile onto the characters.

BH: What do you think motivates a play that primarily centers on conversations among a group of strangers?

TR: This play was interesting because it was a bit like rehearsing realism: one thing is being said, but the meaning behind it (albeit a fight for power or a revelation), or the positioning of a person completely changes each line. There was always a line within a line. The tension between each line and the stakes that each character has in the room motivate the play to the next level.

BH: What was your favorite part of putting on the production?

TR: My favorite part of this whole process has just been working in the rehearsal room. Each night I felt like a painter who was being given more and more colors to paint with because of the work the actors put out there.

BH: Were there any obstacles you encountered?

TR: The greatest obstacles we encountered were with the language, I’d say. The sophistication and density of it was tough to grapple at first but, the more we worked, we were able to conquer it and move on.

BH: Did you draw on any other plays or books when directing this production? Did other images of hell affect the version of hell in “No Exit?”

TR: This hell is so radically different from any I’ve ever read about, it was tough to draw any comparisons. Sartre’s hell is created by the people that are put into it, therefore, most of our hell is a creation of the people thrown into it.

“No Exit” will be performed from Nov. 12 through 14 at 8 p.m. and on Nov. 18 through 20 at 8 p.m.