No Exit: A Play in One Act

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Samuel French, Inc., 1958 - Drama - 54 pages
7 Reviews
Fantasy / Characters: 2 male, 2 female

Scenery: Interior

No Exit was first presented in New York at the Biltmore Theatre with Claude Dauphin, Annabella, and Ruth Ford. Two women and one man are locked up together for eternity in one hideous room in hell. The windows are bricked up; there are no mirrors; the electric lights can never be turned off; and there is no exit. The irony of this hell is that its torture is not of the rack and fire, but of the burning humiliation of each soul as it is stripped of its pretenses by the cruel curiosity of the damned. Here the soul is shorn of secrecy, and even the blackest deeds are mercilessly exposed to the fierce light of hell. It is an eternal torment.

 

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Why is it that everybody seems to know (the wonderful) "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett, but nobody seems to remember Sartre's "No Exit"? A Theater-of-Cruelty masterpiece, up there with "Marat/Sade", IMHO. Maybe I need to make some new friends...

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When a friend asked if I had seen the play or the movie based on Sartre's "No Exit", my curiosity was piqued. I searched online and found a version I could read. In this brief one-act play, Sartre illuminates the human condition and the consequences of behavior. Actions often taken lightly, reverberate and leave disaster in their wake. The three main characters are dead. In life, they were each, in their own way, responsible for a tragic ending. They are now in Hell, where they are forced to explore their sins. They are forced to face them and take responsibility for their actions. There is a purpose and design to the combination of the souls together, in the room with no exit.
Ines is a lesbian. She is the most realistic about their plight and is the intuitive foil used to move the play along, used to expose each of the other character's faults. Estelle is consumed with her own vanity, her own image. Garcin is a coward who does not want to face his own weakness or his true self image. All three are in denial about the errors of their ways and their deaths. Each has been involved in an affair of the heart, which ended in dreadful circumstances because of their transgressions. Each has been consumed, in the conduct of their lives, by the selfish satisfaction of their needs, without regard for the pain those actions caused in there aftermath.
When at the beginning, Garcin says to the valet: “So one has to live with one's eyes open all the time?”, my first thought was, so that is Hell, having to face oneself. Later, near the very end, he says: "Hell Is Other People” and I realized the simplicity of the message the play imparts. Hell is being placed in a situation where you have to face yourself through the eyes of other people, others who are relentless in their effort to expose and judge you, the very thing you avoided during your lifetime, the truth.
The three people chosen to be together in the room with no exit, have been condemned to the constant exploration of their character flaws through their intimate conversations. They lay bare the imperfections in each other and, therefore, can no longer hide from their own. Their torture was not physical but emotional and mental. They must constantly face their shortcomings with no hope for redemption. In the same way they tortured others in their lives, with dreadful consequences, they now are tortured by the actions of their "roommates" who are consumed with themselves and their own cruel natures, bent on exposing each other and forcing each to witness the humiliation of their shameful ways and horrible consequences of their shallowness, perhaps over and over through eternity. There is no escape from that kind of Hell.
 

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About the author (1958)

Sartre is the dominant figure in post-war French intellectual life. A graduate of the prestigious Ecole Normale Superieure with an agregation in philosophy, Sartre has been a major figure on the literary and philosophical scenes since the late 1930s. Widely known as an atheistic proponent of existentialism, he emphasized the priority of existence over preconceived essences and the importance of human freedom. In his first and best novel, Nausea (1938), Sartre contrasted the fluidity of human consciousness with the apparent solidity of external reality and satirized the hypocrisies and pretensions of bourgeois idealism. Sartre's theater is also highly ideological, emphasizing the importance of personal freedom and the commitment of the individual to social and political goals. His first play, The Flies (1943), was produced during the German occupation, despite its underlying message of defiance. One of his most popular plays is the one-act No Exit (1944), in which the traditional theological concept of hell is redefined in existentialist terms. In Red Gloves (Les Mains Sales) (1948), Sartre examines the pragmatic implications of the individual involved in political action through the mechanism of the Communist party and a changing historical situation. His highly readable autobiography, The Words (1964), tells of his childhood in an idealistic bourgeois Protestant family and of his subsequent rejection of his upbringing. Sartre has also made significant contributions to literary criticism in his 10-volume Situations (1947--72) and in works on Baudelaire, Genet, and Flaubert. In 1964 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and refused it, saying that he always declined official honors.

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