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More heaven than hell: FTP’s ‘No Exit’ gives vivid portrayal of afterlife

Published: November 19, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

HELL ON EARth: Caroline Capello ’11 (center) impresses as Inez in the Free Play Cooperative Theatre’s production of ‘No Exit.’’ Dani Gurfinkel ’13 (left) and Xan Weinstein ’12 (right) also perform admirably as Garcin and Estelle.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

If being dead and in hell is truly as lively as it appears in this play, I’d be publishing this review posthumously.

Or maybe not.

In Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit,” produced by the Free Play Theatre Cooperative, hell may not be filled with fire, brimstone or demon torturers, but it is still recognizably hell. The torturers, the few humans in a small, shared space, are enough to make each other pound fruitlessly on the door, empire-style sofa or whatever else they are seemingly arbitrarily given in their waiting room for eternity.

Hell’s portrayal in the Mandel Center Saturday night, fortunately provoked the opposite impulse from its audience members. As soon as all three characters in the existential masterpiece arrived, all shocked that their “only” punishment was to reside in the room forever—together, the audience was more than willing to spend an hour-and-a-half in hell.

Dani Gurfinkel ’13, playing the overemotional yet heartless husband Garcin, had a monologue —almost immediately in the opening scene. His scene let the audience know that the play would make use of few distractions—there are virtually no props. The actor and the audience simultaneously got acclimated to Tony Rios’ ’11 Mandel atrium setting. Gurfinkel’s voice was initially shaky, but it improved a bit after he got used to the atrium.

It was soon forgotten in any case. When Inez, (Caroline Cappello ’11) was thrown in hell, you stopped being able to call it so. As the avaricious Inez, Cappello mirrored the sinner when she stole the show.

One would think the reviewer as questioning of his existence as Sartre himself knowing how many times he had plunged in to hell for different productions of “No Exit.” But it means I may tell you that in each rendition, one character is typically the largest force in the torturous triangle. It’s often Estelle, the beautiful young socialite (this time played by Xan Weinstein ’12) that provides the drama. In hell, Inez falls for her, but Estelle only sees Garcin for the respite he can provide. Garcin completes the cursed love triangle by needing an intelligent voice to relieve him of his guilt; Inez, clearly the only option, denies and pokes his weaknesses viciously.

And so in this production, it is Inez who outshines the Estelles or even the Garcins in other performances. The deepest character in terms of questioning the base evil in the cellmates, only Cappello seemed to fully demonstrate Inez’s complex role. And even to a newcomer to Sartre’s masterpiece, she would have easily outclassed their expectation—and her co-stars. Such was the intensity in her profession to know why they all were there, in the room together; such was her final meltdown when Garcin almost submits to Estelle, screaming and yet enunciating clearly that Inez, who can’t close her eyes in hell, would taunt them forever never letting them out of her sight.

Were I suddenly a hater of existential theater or one annoyed with the melodrama from Estelle’s usual doppelgangers, this Inez would be enough to make the play worthwhile again. Playing the distraught lesbian who saw right through Garcin and his more subtle yet even more repulsive nature, Cappello had exactly the inflection, hurt and betrayal a cast-off lover will endow, and deftly timed it with both Gurfinkel and Weinstein’s embraces.

True: both of the others gave their character’s impassioned defense, as per the ending—Gurfinkel thankfully spoke up this time, and Weinstein proved herself competent, if a little late. But Cappello could probably have played all three parts herself. The acted spasms of her visage and ringing Mandel Atrium-quality voice would have been even more evocative threefold. She deserved it: if, as Garcin deduces at the end, “hell is other people,” Cappello’s talent all across the stage, alone, would leave Inez and her audience in heaven.