Review: ‘No Exit’ by Dark Horse Theatre Company

Dark Horse Theatre Company knocks it out of the park again with this atmospheric trip to the afterlife. No Exit, written by Jean-Paul Sartre and directed by Natasha Parnian, is weird and dark and will make you think.

Arianne' Warner, Scott D. Pafumi, and Jane Steffen in 'No Exit.' Photo courtesy of Dark Horse Theatre Company.
Arianne’ Warner, Scott D. Pafumi, and Jane Steffen in ‘No Exit.’ Photo courtesy of Dark Horse Theatre Company.

As with other Dark Horse productions, the show begins as soon as you step into the venue. Armed with a program designed like a newspaper’s obituary page and a small mirror for a ticket, you navigate your way to the performance area. Parnian utilizes a sometimes challenging performance space expertly by presenting No Exit in the round, pulling the audience into the action as otherworldly spectators. One of the audience members happens to be The Valet (Skye Lindberg), stationed just slightly out of the light, but still very much a huge presence onstage. Without revealing too much, Parnian has discovered a new interpretation to some of the events onstage that breathes new life into this very intense show.

For those of us who may not be as familiar with French Existentialism, No Exit looms as a somewhat daunting play. Fortunately, the plot is actually very simple. Three recently deceased people are locked in a waiting room in Hell, ostensibly forever.

Joseph Garcin (Scott D. Pafumi) is the first person to arrive, ushered in by The Valet, followed by Inez Serrano (Jane Steffen). Estelle Rigault (Arianne’ Warner) is the last person to arrive and declares that there must be some mistake as she should not be in Hell. At first, the lack of hot pokers and torture is anticlimactic, but it quickly becomes clear that forever is going to be a really, really long time.

While traditionally, the role of The Valet is often played by a man, Skye Lindberg (and in The Plains, Natasha Parnian) steps up and adds depth to a character that might be overlooked otherwise. While Lindberg’s opening scene with Pafumi sets the tone for the rest of the evening, it’s her non-verbal acting that will draw you in. No matter where she is onstage (or off-stage), make sure you keep an eye on Lindberg.

Pafumi brings nuance to Garcin, a pacifist (or coward, depending on who you ask). It takes a strong actor to play a self-aggrandizing and self-loathing character, and Pafumi makes easy work of the extreme emotional jumps needed. His best moments come toward the end of the play, when Joseph Garcin’s anguish and desperation is palpable.

Scott D. Pafumi and Skye Lindberg in 'No Exit.' Photo courtesy of Dark Horse Theatre Company.
Scott D. Pafumi and Skye Lindberg in ‘No Exit.’ Photo courtesy of Dark Horse Theatre Company.

Due to the nature of this production, Steffen has the difficult task of playing two very different roles, switching between them at the drop of a hat. No Exit often leaves people with the conclusion that Inez is the least redeemable character, but Steffen pours humanity into the role. With help from Lindberg, Steffen makes Inez the role to watch.

Warner is superb as Estelle. Starting out, Warner’s Estelle is sweet and gentle. She seems like the perfect hostess, if not a little conceited. When the reason for Estelle’s long-term stay in Hell is revealed, Warner takes those same characteristics and warps them to create a character that is chillingly sociopathic. Performing this in the round means that the audience cannot help but watch in horror as Warner melts the façade off of Estelle, all with a practiced coy smile.

No Exit is a 90-minute block of intensity, and for both Sartre aficionados and laypeople alike, this production is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

No Exit plays through August 31, 2019, at Artspace Herndon, 750 Center Street
Herndon, VA, and from September 6-14, 2019, at Grace The Plains, 6507 Main Street, The Plains, VA. Purchase tickets at the door or online.