Matthew Hannon and two other grads of LACC’s prestigious Theatre Academy have mounted Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit as a tribute to their late teacher/director Brett Gandy. It is Gandy’s concept which director/star Hannon has remounted in a production of the French existentialist classic playing Tuesdays at the Lounge Theatre.

Hannon is to be saluted for the effort that has gone into No Exit, and for his commitment to the project.

This is a very different rendition of No Exit from any you may have seen before. In place of the realistic and the natural, Hannon has undertaken a very stylized approach to Sartre’s one-act drama about three sinners condemned to hell who discover that “hell is just other people.”

In fact, the stylized design elements are among the production’s strongest assets. Megan Fraher’s costumes (described below) are amazingly imaginative. Geronimo Guzman has designed an artistically inventive set painted black, except for a white door far upstage (the play’s French title, Huis Clos, is legal terminology for “behind closed doors”) and dozens of white handprints around the door frame, remnants of others who have attempted escape from this room. Finally, there is a sound design which incorporates some of Madonna’s most seductive melodies to good effect.

Hannon plays Cradeau, a cheat, an Army deserter, and a coward who motivated the suicide of his wife after his death. Wearing green glitter in his gelled jet black hair, dark glittery lipstick, heavy eye shadow, and rouge, and attired in a waistcoat, dark green silk vest, tight black leggings and 8” platform boots, Hannon’s robotic moves and affected speech make it clear that StageSceneLA’s usual criteria for judging an acting performance (the best acting=the most natural/invisible acting) will not apply here. Still, more than anyone else in the company, Hannon’s performance is of a piece, and his elegant vocal patterns match the stilted nature of Paul Bowles’ translation from Sartre’s original French.

Lines like “Won’t you cry, confound you!” and “Don’t touch me with those filthy male hands” would (forgive the redundancy) confound even the finest actors, and it could well be that this production’s stylized nature does in fact suit their  artificiality.

Annabel Turrado is equally committed to the role of lesbian seductress and murderess Inez.  With her red and black dominatrix-like costume, blood red glittery eye shadow and lipstick, and 2” long red-lacquered fingernails, this is one scary spider woman. Turrado is to be commended for never giving in to an attempt to soften Inez. (Top marks to Turrado for her striking make-up designs.)

The third resident of Sartre’s hell is Estelle, who married for money and cheated on her husband with a younger man, then killed her infant child, driving her lover to suicide. The role is played here by Nichole A. Joubert, who is dressed as a pastel- blue baby doll with pale blue ribbons in her hair and white fishnet stockings. Joubert too has been directed to move in a highly artificial manner, with jerky movements like those of a puppet on a string.  I’m not quite sure what Gandy’s reason for this was. Joubert is less successful than Hannon and Turrado in the heightened speech patterns that Bowles’ translation seems to require.  Gandy’s concept of Estelle as puppet doesn’t allow for any real emotion, and despite Joubert’s commitment to the role, Estelle suffers for it.

Completing the cast is sexy, tanned, shirtless, blond Bobby Gold as the Valet, who gives the pre-show announcements, escorts the three leads into the room, and has a short scene with Cradeau.  The heavy black circles surrounding Gold’s eyes mask his surferboy handsomeness, and give him a truly scary look which carries over to a rather effective performance.  (With Gold in the role, it’s a shame Sartre didn’t have the Valet stick around longer.)

Ultimately, the artsy nature of Gandy’s concept makes it difficult for anyone in the cast to give the kind of natural performance that ends up being the most powerful and moving, at least in this reviewer’s opinion.

I would give Hannon’s No Exit an A for effort. It is a noble one, and if it was not one that I personally could respond to as positively as I would have wished, the work of all those involved is to be saluted.

The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
April 29, 2008

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