NO EXIT, Burning Doll Theatre, at Springman Studio. Jean-Paul Sartre might be surprised to find that in this production of his play, hell appears to be reverting to nature: the Second Empire room specified in the script is here overgrown with foliage, revealing only glimpses of furniture beneath. Moreover, the three guests doomed to spend eternity in this apartment are welcomed by a buffet set out by a cheerful maid.
Neither did Sartre probably envision his philosophy-driven drama being reduced to a scenario for three performance artists who deviate from the dialogue to an extent approaching full-out improvisation--a snippet of song here, a present-day colloquialism there, clownish business accompanying scenes usually played for emotional impact. But however far afield Caila Lipovsky, Tommy Thompson, and Natalie Brewster Nguyen might stray, this production always returns to Sartre's central themes.
With its commitment to spontaneity, Burning Doll's production risks self-indulgent chaos, and the opening-night performance was not without its silly moments. But overall this approach creates an atmosphere free of academic artifice and actorly posturing. Most surprising, however, is the discovery that Sartre--like Shakespeare and Sophocles--is a playwright so suited to our times as to permit this kind of horseplay.