Sartre’s version of hell

Spanning over two hours, Jean Paul Sartre’s seminal 1944 play No Exit (Huis Clos) is an acquired taste. It has to be consumed one take at a time, like the gentle chewing of undercooked rice. As part of Bangalore Little Theatre’s (BLT) three-day French Theatre Festival, Alliance Francaise de Bangalore staged the play on 20th August. BLT’s Director Training programme is an initiative to propel new artists and directors to come up with live productions within three months while learning to manage a theatre production. The third edition of the festival saw two more plays staged; Jean Anouilh’s Dinner With The Family and Moliere’s Tartuffe.

 

Processed with VSCO with a6 preset
Joseph Garcin in conversation with the bellboy

 

The afternoon show at 1 seemed auspicious with the patchy sky and the venue had a sombre air, synonymous to what an existentialist play would demand. Although it wasn’t a full house, as expected on an afternoon, the people present in the room had not come to watch just any other play. Sartre demands your attention at all times and fraying from this rule even for a moment means one cannot comprehend the next scene. The play, directed by Deepak Mote is a mélange of many sensory elements. One has to shift between what is happening on stage to what is happening on the other part of the stage while being in tune with the rumbling bass, snare drum with the cymbals against the backdrop.

‘Hell is other people’ is the meaning behind Sartre’s No Exit. As three individuals find themselves in a not-so-everyday living room sans the ‘devices of torture’, their conception of how the afterlife of damnation would be like comes crashing down. A bellboy with neatly combed hair in a snappy black jacket comes on stage and brings into the room its first occupant Joseph Garcin and answers many of his stock questions about torture chambers and hellfire. Garcin is soon followed by Inez and Estelle, two women who are to be his roommates for eternity. “It’s like this”, says Garcin in an inquisitive manner. “It’s like this”, answers the bellboy in a bored fashion.

The three occupants start showing their connections to the real world, portrayed by dancers on the other part of the stage, separated by a flimsy cloth. It gives the idea that it is within one’s reach yet unreachable. There are no mirrors in the room and the furniture is colour coded to match their personalities. Estelle frantically looks for a mirror to check on her appearance. Inez offers to be her mirror and tells her to look into her eyes. As Estelle frantically tries to put on her lipstick, Inez reveals the many dark secrets of Estelle and frightens her to the core. The three of them serve as mirrors for each other and in turn become unrelenting torturers.

Garcin is a dapper figure dressed in a beige coat and white shirt, a journalist from Rio de Janeiro by profession. As the heat in the room rises, he sheds his civilised self and the caricature of the coward and the unfaithful wife abuser he came out. He flees his country during the outbreak of the war and gets killed in action. Estelle, clad in a lilac one piece dress is a chirping flirtatious lady from Paris but like Garcin, her true face of a hypocrite and a child murderer propelled by lust and vanity emerges. Inez is a cold and calculated figure who is not afraid to say her mind and stand up for the same. A lesbian postal clerk, she ends up turning her cousin’s wife against him resulting in the murder of the latter. She doesn’t flinch away from showing her sexual desire towards Estelle who never reciprocates. Estelle, on the other hand, shows her lascivious nature towards Garcin because he is a man. Although reluctant at first, Garcin finally gives in to Estelle’s advancements, much to the distaste of Inez. He begs Estelle to not call him a coward and while she complies, Inez remarks that Estelle is doing the same just to feign attraction because he is a man and at this point, any man would do for her. This causes Joseph to make an attempt of escape from the room and although the door opens up, he isn’t able to leave because his redemption lies in convincing Inez that he isn’t a coward.

As their verbal paroxysms shoot up with the temperature in the room, the trio is able to see the characters they formed while they were alive. Now, in hell, nothing can be changed but to shed their outer pretentious selves and embrace what lies inside them. Isolated in space and time, in a room when the night never comes they are able to perceive the torture device they themselves are to one another. For all eternity, Estelle won’t care that Garcin is a coward till he kisses her; Garcia won’t be able to kiss her because he knows he is a coward while Inez will always despise Garcia and lust after Estelle in vain.

The lighting and the musical score in the backdrop play a crucial role in the play, highlighting the moments of crescendo. Somehow, the electricity cuts in between the play would not have surprised the viewer as it fits seamlessly into the atmosphere of it. The dancers depicting the earthly lives of the three characters are able to portray the emotion that is expected from them. The play gives Sartre’s message that for the living, change is always possible until the final choice is made.

Advertisements

Family anecdotes (Pt. II)

She died when I was in 3rd standard so I didn’t get to spend much time with her properly. The only vague memories which I have about her are from two incidents. The first one is one from my cousin sister’s marriage and the second one is from her funeral. She was always sick. She had been sick since my mother was born, who was the sixth child in the family. My mother told me that she became ‘mad’ after her birth and that she was almost totally bed ridden all the time. She used to do the chores and scream and talk to herself. Things got even worse after my grandfather died when my mom was just 16 years old. It was an unexpected death; an accidental death caused due to an injection containing the wrong medication. He was the breadwinner of the house and his death nearly made the family homeless. They had to vacant the quarters they were living in. Hopefully, there were a few of my relatives who helped and supported them in getting a house for my mother and her siblings to live.

I remember my maternal grandmother as a short, frail lady with an expressionless face. She was somehow frowning all the time; about what I never knew. I do not remember her being amused by anything in the period of time I got to spend with her. She was toothless and she had a hunched back. Her eyes were devoid of any light and I don’t remember how she sounded like. I don’t remember her ever speaking to me. There is a group photo which we have from my cousin’s marriage where she is seen sitting on a chair, eyebrows furrowed and without any expression at all, while I am standing with my cousin and two other people but right now, I do not remember who they are. I was wearing a red t-shirt with cream coloured shorts and I am shielding the sunlight from my eyes. The photo was taken one afternoon in the month of June and if you look at the photo, you can see all of our faces gleaming with the sweat. Apart from this photo, I don’t remember anything about her from the wedding.

I remember the day my grandmother died. It was another sweltering day and I had no idea why me and my mom were travelling on a bus to Biswanath Chariali. This is my mother’s native place which was around 400 kilometres from Duliajan, where we lived back then. It was a tiring 8 hour journey on a yellow coloured bus and I remember feeling nauseated by the end of it. I do not remember if I puked but I do remember that I stepped on cow dung and decorated the entire bus floor with it. My mother and the conductor were annoyed and the latter was ranting about the mess I had made and the poor guy had to wash the entire floor when we stopped at a restaurant to have lunch.

I had no idea whatsoever that we were going for my grandmother’s funeral, that she was already dead and that my relatives were waiting for my mother to arrive so that she could have a last look at her. That was perhaps the first day when I saw my mother cry. And she was crying hysterically while I was too petrified to react. It was my first time seeing a dead body and seeing people grieving. I was unsure as to how I was expected to react over this. All my relatives appeared crestfallen and my maternal uncle was holding my mother while weeping silently. I went and stood near the gate and cried a little but I didn’t know why I did that. I didn’t even properly know the lady who died. Perhaps it was because my mother cried. My mother stopped crying after the body was taken away to be cremated while I asked one of my relatives for some water to drink. I don’t remember much as to what happened afterwards.