These are the facts: I attended Snowglobe Theatre’s season closer on their opening, Thursday, July 5th at the Mainline Theatre. It was the tail end of a heatwave, and I was not in the mood. The show was, ironically, No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre, the popular existentialist drama from 1944. To say that the atmosphere was stifling would be an understatement. Despite the conditions and unlike the three unlucky characters, I was not in hell.
You’re greeted at the door by an usher adorned in red and black formal-wear with a little rounded chapeau. Picture the bellboy from Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” but the hotel is in hell. His smile is painted on and unnervingly static while he guides you to your seat. MainLine Theatre hosts a thrust stage with seating on three sides surrounding the action while the back wall is featureless save for a large, ominous door stage left. There are two fans blasting on either corner of the audience; a group of four moves so they can be in the path of the sweet, sweet air. We sit stage left from where I’m able to watch both the action and the other sections of audience.
Jon Greenway introduces the show as the director and suggests we use the bathroom now as there will be no intermission – it is No Exit, after all. The usher continues to seat people until the doors close, at which point he leaves through the Ominous Door as the lights go down.
Turns out the usher is in fact The Valet and is played by Duy Nguyen with a composed menace. The Valet escorts a man in a full suit (he’s not sweating yet, but he will be) into the room before taking his leave. The room is Hell and the man, Garcin, is in it. There are three loveseats facing each other and a strange bronze statue upstage right. As Garcin acclimates to his new situation, the audience acclimates to the heat. It’s a funny thing to be watching a play where the characters are talking about being too hot and not being able to escape when you are in the exact same situation. This isn’t to say anything about the show – again, these are just the facts. The difference, of course, is that I’m there voluntarily while the characters are not. But the play raises interesting questions about the nature of the hell’s we put ourselves in: what actions lead us to these places, and how many of them are voluntary?
Soon, there are three characters sharing this hell-space (each with their own loveseat – who said Hell was bad?) and the astute Inez makes the bold claim that they are each there to torture each other – “Hell is…other people”, says Garcin. The rest of the action unfolds naturally, with the three characters bouncing off of each other like the sparks of a smoldering fire – rearing up and attacking one another, calmly listening to each other’s tales from their past lives, simmering in silent frustration…Each actor fills out these archetypes well, powering through despite the heat. Alex Goldrich festers inside the suit of Garcin, as if at any moment he could explode or melt into the couch. Zamera Topolovec is the last to join the party as Estelle, a mistress and romantic. Despite the high drama of her arc, Topolovec imbues the character with a quiet sincerity. Samantha Bitonti keeps the plot moving as firebrand Inez, every moment of her body and word out of her mouth predicated on the edge of a cliff. The three have largely different energies that bounce off of each other well in such an intimate space.
Halfway through the show I look at the audience on the opposite side of the theatre and see The Valet sitting in the back row with a sinister gaze pointed at action unfolding onstage. It was a small moment that greatly added to the overall atmosphere.
The lighting design by Peter Giser is simple but effective, with a deep glowing red that permeates the space in quiet moments. The staging and set are similarly bare-bones, not to the detriment of the show. It allows us to see the characters on their terms, in their world, slowly and painfully sinking into the reality of their afterlives. As they acquiesce, the lights go out. Blessedly, I walk out of the theatre and into the still-stifling night air. Yep, it’s hot, but at least I’m living.
MainLine Theatre presents Snowglobe Theatre’s
Mainline Theatre – 3997 Boul St. Laurent
July 5th – 8pm
July 6th – 8pm
July 7th – 8pm
July 8th – 2pm
(Doors open 30 minutes prior, the Valet will guide guests to their seat in hell. The performance runs 90-100 minutes with no intermission).