No Exit | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Moveable Feast Theatre Company, at the Neo-Futurarium.

The premise of Jean-Paul Sartre's most famous play is that hell is not the fiery furnace we usually envision but a perverse college dorm in which intentionally mismatched roommates drive each other crazy. Since it was first produced in wartime France, No Exit--or at least Sartre's witty premise--has suffused popular culture. In the cult porn film The Devil in Miss Jones, hell is marked with No Exit signs. And one episode of Rod Serling's Night Gallery featured a 60s swinger into S & M who looks forward to the chains and pincers of hell but finds he must spend eternity watching slides of his hopelessly square neighbors' vacation.

A contemporary audience is so far ahead of the story that the only surprise in Sartre's carefully timed revelations--we are really in hell, the valet is the devil, "hell is other people"--is that we're supposed to be surprised at all. At times, watching the play is like listening to a shy child stutter out the one about the chicken crossing the road. And sadly, director Meghan Schumacher and her cast of four, who are fair to pretty good performers, are helpless to make this dead-in-the-water play about the devil and three unlikely eternal companions--a sour lesbian, a childish flirt, and a cowardly but vain journalist--seem anything but a historical curiosity.

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