By D. A. Blackburn
There’s something decidedly terrifying about Jean-Paul Sartre’s vision of Hell, and it’s not fire, brimstone or molten lava. As guests of the Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company’s inaugural production, “No Exit,” will discover, it’s the damned themselves that man should fear.
The fledgling company has done a fine job in mounting “No Exit” at Detroit’s Gryphon Theatre, crafting a thought-provoking production full of good performances. Sartre’s image of Hell is that of a Second Empire drawing room, which serves as prison cell to three distinctly different souls, damned to grate on each other’s nerves for all eternity. And though Sartre wrote the work in 1944, its existential themes and complex characters maintain relevance even today.
As Garcin, a womanizing coward, Stephen Blackwell cuts an imposing figure. He is, at once, tormented by his own insecurities and fellow prisoners. Blackwell navigates the deep river of Garcin’s emotions with confidence and conviction.
Morgan Chard, likewise, gives a good showing as Inez, a narcissistic, bitter and spiteful lesbian. And Jackie Strez creates a perfectly shallow picture of wealth as Estelle, a murderous adulteress. In the production’s smallest role, Jon Ager creates an underworld valet with a devilish charm and a sly smile.
Direction by Frannie Shepherd-Bates elicits strong performances by the entire cast. Shepherd-Bates does a nice job in keeping the drama fluid – moving the production along at a brisk pace without losing the subtle nuances that make “No Exit” a gripping play.
The production’s set, designed by Cory Johnson, is clever and thoughtfully appropriate for Sartre’s existential writing. The stage’s furnishings meet the requirements of the script and the overall visual impact of the set drives home the idea that there is no escape from damnation.
“No Exit” is a well-produced offering for Magenta Giraffe’s first time out of the gates. It leaves the impression that the troupe is organized and professional, capable of delivering serious theater to rival some of the area’s more established companies.
. Magenta Giraffe Theatre Company, The Gryphon, 2040 Park Ave., Detroit. Plays in repertory through Jan. 16. Tickets: $15. For more information: http://www.magentagiraffe.org