“No Exit,” by French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre, depicts three deceased characters in the afterlife, punished by being locked into a room together for eternity. It is the source of Sartre’s often misinterpreted quote, “L’enfer, c’est les autres,” or “Hell is other people.”
The original title of the play, “Huis Clos,” is the French equivalent of the legal term “in camera,” referring to a private discussion behind closed doors. It was first performed at Theatre du Vieux-Colombier in 1944. English translations have also been performed under the titles “In Camera,” “No Way Out,” “Vicious Circle,” “Behind Closed Doors” and “Dead End.”
Lito Casaje is directing a production of the play, presented by the French Embassy as part of the Francophonie Festival this March, an annual celebration of French language and culture.
A playwright, screenwriter, professor, actor and filmmaker, Casaje co-founded the theater company Dramatis Personae with the late playwright Bienvenido M. Noriega Jr. in 1989. He’s been partnering with the French Embassy ever since.
“My first project with Alliance was in 1990, a twin bill of two French avant-garde plays, Jean Genet’s ‘The Maids’ and Eugene Ionesco’s ‘The Lesson,’” he recalls. “I remember performing these plays while we faintly overheard machine guns firing with the then ongoing Honasan-led coup d’état against the Cory government, since we were in Makati.”
“No Exit” will mix music, movement, poetry, masks, voice-overs and film.
“I’d like this staging to be more contemporary, timeless, spaceless, oblique, allegorical and theatrical than just merely claustrophobic, wordy, linear, straight-laced, monochromatic and cerebral,” says Casaje.
He aims to “physicalize the poetry of Sartre’s lines, essaying them with a bit of the actor’s/character’s choreographed movements.”
Thematically, however, “there is really nothing you can do to make the play’s existentially dark, cynical and nihilistic message less cryptic and more hopeful,” he notes.
“Directorially and consciously, after my redemptive experience from cancer, I was attempting to debunk this worldview through a somewhat hopeful light, through an epilogue perhaps, but can’t.”
Casaje had initially proposed this production in March 2013. A few months later, he was diagnosed with Burkitt-like lymphoma. “The last of my four-cycle chemotherapy protocol ended in October. After my lymphoma/inferno phase, I re-proposed it in November,” he recounts.
“My oncologist, Dauline So-Kaw, told me I’m already in my maintenance phase of recovery. She still wants me to pursue maintenance chemo protocol, to be administered every three months for two years.
“I’m really struggling on working things out the alternative way, meaning the all-natural, all-fiber, all-organic health food way, all the way.
“It’s darn difficult, a continuing struggle to a point where my favorite pastas and pizzas would still get in the awful way.”
Casaje posits that “No Exit” is “Sartre’s eloquent dramatization of his ‘no way out’ philosophy, that being trapped into something or anything, whether it’s our own doing or not, whether we like it or not, is an integral part of our lives.”
“But who knows,” says Casaje, “this staging is a work-in-progress. I might just succeed in anesthetizing even a tiny bit of the theme’s existential pain after all. This is my first mounting of this play and I’m having a lot of fun.”
Lighting design is by Ian Bautista, sound design and music by Jerry Garcia, choreography by Arvey Lopena.
“No Exit” runs March 14, 7:30 p.m., at Rajah Sulayman Theater, Fort Santiago. Free admission. To reserve seats, contact Dramatis Personae 0928-2070827 or 0906-4974025. The production is available for nationwide school and university tours and socio-civic fund-raising events.
Visit the French Embassy website www.ambafrance.ph.org.