Hell is Other People (You Met in School)
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Hell is Other People (You Met in School)

Emerging theatre company Arts & Lies is producing Sartre's No Exit. They've also tarted it up a bit—which, considering three of the actors are former students of their fourth co-star, makes for some interesting power dynamics.

Left to right: M. John Kennedy, Jess Salgueiro, Danie Friesen, and L.A. Lopes make each other's afterlives hell in No Exit.

No Exit
Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue)
Running until February 4, Tuesday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
$19.95 students, $24.95 general (PWYC January 29, 2 p.m. matinee)

“Three people find themselves in a parlour room—in Hell. They have conflicting personalities, and discover the tortures of Hell, for them, is being stuck with these other people.” That’s actor M. John Kennedy’s succinct synopsis of No Exit, the Jean-Paul Sartre classic being staged by Arts & Lies Productions as their second production.

We spoke with Kennedy and founding Arts & Lies company members Jess Salgueiro & L.A. Lopes about why they chose the famous script, and the role their school connections played in putting the production together.

Arts & Lies’ previous work was a production of Woody Allen’s Death: A Play, and done in the back room of the Cadillac Lounge. A first theatrical experience for both the company and the bar, it proved to be a popular debut for the fledgling company, selling out several shows. For their sophomore show, however, the company members wanted to go back to their roots. Save for Kennedy, all of the actors in No Exit are graduates of the Randolph Academy, and it was years ago, while in school, that they first encountered Sartre’s script.

“L.A. and Danie [Friesen] were assigned a scene from No Exit in class,” recounts Salgueiro (who impressed us last summer playing the macho Pancho Villa in The Physical Ramifications of Attempted Global Domination at SummerWorks). The two actors loved the scene, and Salgueiro tells us, “They’ve been harping on Rosanna [Saracino] ever since to direct them in a full production.” (Salgueiro has become an instructor herself at Randolph in the years since she graduated, joining Saracino and Kennedy as faculty—she’s assistant directing this production.)

There were other reasons the whole company wanted to get their claws out in Sartre’s infamous work: “It’s a really rich piece, and in line with our company’s mandate of producing highly stylized work.” Lopes, who plays the cruel and predatory Inès Serrano, says tackling the play as a whole really appealed to them. “It’s easy to get stuck on the complexities of the script at first read, for an actor. But Rosanna has really helped us find the absurd humour in the play, in how extreme these characters are in their competing attentions for each other.”

One aspect of the play the company hasn’t tinkered with is the time period. “It’s set in the 1940s,” says Salgueiro, “and we’ve stuck with that, so that we’re true to the dialogue.” They all love the physical space of the Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace, which is a dark and close quarters space when lit properly, and the set pieces and costumes Saracino and the crew has sourced for the show. They may be cloaked in formal wear, but the characters are in no way polite. “This isn’t a parlour drama, with talking heads, or dry wit,” Kennedy emphasizes. “It’s quite funny, and sexualized, and aggressive.” He’s the only man on stage in the show, as Salgueiro plays the hellspawn Valet as an exotic, slinky character. “It works well,” says Kennedy of the added sexual edge, “since my character, Garcin, is somewhat lecherous.”

Colouring those sexual and power dynamics on stage, perhaps, is the fact that Kennedy taught all three of his castmates when they were at Randolph. But he insists that they’ve all been equals in the rehearsal process. “Once people graduate from the program, I don’t see them as students. They’re professionals working in the industry, and if that’s the vibe they’re putting out, that’s how I treat them—we’re all colleagues now.” It’s true that it’s been a few years since Lopes, Salgueiro, and Freisen graduated, but just the same, “there is an odd moment now and then where I’m, like, ‘Ooh, I impressed my teacher’,” says Salgueiro, prompting laughs around the room. “I can’t think that way, though, because I have to play these aggressive, sexual tactics, and if I was still holding onto a student/teacher dynamic, that’d definitely be weird,” says Kennedy with a grin; spending an evening in Hell playing these damned and volatile characters, they all agree, is plenty weird enough.

Photos by Rosanna Saracino.