“Hell is other people.”
No, for once I’m not talking about the population of your 8 a.m. class, or the obnoxious group of people you saw in the cafeteria at lunch. This quote comes from “No Exit,” the most famous play written by Jean-Paul Sartre, an existentialist philosopher.
Published in 1944, the play tells the story of three recently deceased people who have been damned to suffer for eternity based on the actions they committed while they were still alive. “No Exit” offers an interesting look at how we think about death, other people and our own moral codes. Laugh-Riot Performing Arts Company’s production of “No Exit” is currently running in Edinboro and will come to Erie next weekend.
Much of the work of Sartre deals with an idea called “bad faith,” meaning that people are not honest about who they are or what they’ve done in the past. This bad faith extends even to their thoughts about themselves, convincing themselves that they could not have acted in any way inappropriately or immorally.
The characters of “No Exit,” Joseph, Estelle and Inez, show this theory of bad faith. Neither Estelle nor Joseph are willing to admit why they deserve to be sent to hell, while Inez openly admits her crimes and accepts that she is at fault. Existential plays like “No Exit” really allow their readers and audiences to examine their own lives and morals in the context of a philosophy that believes nothing means anything at all.
The simple staging and lighting used by Laugh-Riot allows the text to be truly heard and understood by the audience, and lends well to seeing the characters in hell. The show is also performed in the round, with audience members on all sides. This gives the audience members a chance to see the show from a variety of perspectives, which may shift their understanding of the work.
Laugh-Riot’s production, in association with Erie’s Dramashop, will be performed in Erie on February 14 and 15 at 8 p.m. at the Renaissance Centre. Tickets are $10 for students and $5 seniors.