No Exit

published: Fri, 6-Feb-2004   |   updated: Wed, 4-Jan-2017

Cradeau in No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre for Upstart Performing Ensemble at Smokebrush. Directed by Dustin Shapard. May 1998.

The cast included Tina Pettit as Inez, Erika Zaccaria as Estelle (with Barbara Summerville taking the part on Thursdays - a long story) and John Zuniga as the valet. The director was Dustin Shapard in his directorial début, and very well he did too.

A powerful play about three people in a room in Hell, the classical tortures that Christians like to imagine (molten lead, sulphur, brimstone, etc) being replaced by the three attacking each other verbally until they suddenly realize that their eternal damnation is them in this room, hating and haunting each other for ever. A very black comedy about some pretty horrible people.

I must say that is was a pretty yucky translation of a very good play. The subtleties of the original French text were lost or dropped like large bricks. I had to buy Huis Clos in French because there were some bizarre, glaring errors that we just couldn't understand in the translation.

Fun fact: I designed the programme, the first I'd done. I used Adobe PageMaker to do it and it was a long drawn-out process (mainly because I didn't know enough about PageMaker and how to position images properly). Dustin drew the picture on the cover and I scanned it. I also bought the distressed font that the play title and the headings inside use. It's called Fragile ICG and who knows where I bought it from (I think it was from EyeWire, which no longer exists). I can't find the font with Google so it doesn't look as it's available any more. The font copyright states that it's owned by "Image Club Graphics, Inc." but this company also no longer exists. Their font collection was taken over by but they don't have Fragile ICG. Shame: it's a fun distressed font, all lowercase.


ValetJohn Zuniga
CradeauJulian Bucknall
InezTina Pettit
EstelleErika Zaccaria
Barbara Summerville (7-May & 14-May)

Extracts from the review from the Colorado Springs Independent

Inside Upstart's Exit
by David Sckolnik

"It's very good theater"

"The small audience on hand received an undiluted dose of fierce commentary on the human animal and its behavior in society by intense, focused and bitterly funny performances. The mire of discontent was orchestrated with an appropriate amount of restraint and invention by first-time director Dustin Shapard. There could be little resistance to Bucknall's ultimate realization that 'hell is other people,' so excruciatingly earned through his gut-wrenching battles with Pettit."

(c) The Colorado Springs Independent, 1998

Review from the Gazette

Mark Arnest: ON STAGE

'No Exit's' fury, hysteria, cowardliness bring intensity to stage

There's not much to the synopsis of Jean-Paul Sartre's "No Exit": Three people are locked together in a room in hell for eternity, unable either to escape each other or to get along. But the Upstart Performing Ensemble's eloquent, intense production at the Smokebrush Gallery Theater is anything but a one-note samba. Julian Bucknall, Tina Pettit and Erika Zaccaria plumb the depths of Sartre's play to bring us a little bit of hell right here.

On the surface, Sartre's scenario - a group of unlikeable people who do nothing and never achieve satisfaction - is a lot like "Seinfeld," only without the laughs. Sartre's master stroke in "No Exit" was to create three characters who need each other as much as they despise each other. Although each is hateful to the others, Cradeau and Inez both desire Estelle, and Estelle needs attention from someone - anyone - in order to feel real.

The play's structure forms something akin to concentric circles, as the same things keep happening in different ways. Its only breakthrough occurs when, after Cradeau pounds on it hysterically, the door opens, flooding the room with red light - a wonderful effect from lighting designer Tony Babin.

But no one dares to leave. Although their temperaments make redemption extremely unlikely, they also understand that their only hope lies, somehow, within that room. A very strong cast features Bucknall as Cradeau, a journalist who wants to be remembered as a hero, even though he was a coward. Bucknall seethes with anxiety and equal parts of self-importance and self-loathing. As the malicious Inez, Pettit's fury barely fits on the stage. It's a theater cliche that anger is the easiest emotion to play - but that's no cliche when it's played this well.

Zaccaria makes the beautiful, fluttery Estelle loathsome and pathetic at the same time. There's a lot of laughing on stage, but precious few laughs in the audience. And Zaccaria gets some of them in the simplest ways, such as how she looks at Inez when the latter asks whether it really makes a difference to her that Cradeau is a man. John Zuniga makes the most of his small role as the smug, sadistic valet.

In his directorial debut, Dustin Shapard gives a tight, beautifully shaped account of a difficult play, one that uses both silence and hysteria effectively. "No Exit" is talky, but Shapard emphasizes what movement the play contains. He uses the entire space effectively, and the well-prepared cast meshes into a real ensemble. It's one of the year's most exciting evenings of theater.

Even the intimate setting downstairs at the Smokebrush is perfect, emphasizing the situation's claustrophobia.

The production's only jarring notes are the music at the beginning and end of the play - "Sympathy for the Devil" and "Ring of Fire" - which, although related to the hell motif, seem to come from a different milieu than the play.

(c) The Gazette 1998