Truly NO EXIT at the American Conservatory Theatre

I returned to ACT last night for the final show in my Groupon subscription to their season, and my 20th theatre production seen during this year.

I have to note that theatregoing in Union Square (downtown San Francisco) has become more problematic for me than it should. I generally can’t afford the luxury of driving into the city and paying for parking at a garage. This means that I’m at the mercy of the highly infrequent late night Golden Gate Transit bus service. I find I spend too much time being concerned or methodical about whether I will make the bus or not. So far I have always made the bus, but that is probably because of careful planning. Later on in the trip, I become irritated by the bus detouring through downtown Sausalito and Marin City, but I do get home. This is part of a larger local problem where people assume that public transport is primarily for the business community – and not really worth the time and space here. You can see that I have strong feelings about it.

Back to the show. This version of NO EXIT is actually a touring production from the Electric Company Theatre in Canada, and is a remount which toured extensively around Western Canada. In a way, this show coming to San Francisco hints at possible cost cutting by ACT, although I have noticed that they try to include one touring show per year in their season. Company artistic director Carey Perloff spoke in her program notes of how she “knew at first sight” that she needed to arrange for the play to come here.

I found that the piece had its moments. The action is centered around projected images of the three actors trapped in a room, actually located just offstage, with live video feed to link them back to the larger audience. The mainstage focus shifts to the enigmatic Valet character, who remains center stage for most of the show. I felt that the trio’s introductory scenes were spectacularly overplayed, with large white light and overbearing sound denoting their entrance into the hotel. Sitting high in the balcony, I didn’t appreciate that the scenes were played in the lower house left section of the theatre, completely obscured from view for those of us sitting in the “cheap seats”. With live video onscreen, it sometimes became a question of just where to look. The sound design and acting choices helped to direct our attention somewhat. However, I also sometimes felt that the action could have easily taken place in a movie theatre, with the performance fitting right into the current trends of simulcasting opera and international theatre productions.

Nonetheless, the cyclical nature of the story was sly and direct to the audience. I especially enjoyed a “re-start” type closing scene, when the beginning action of the play repeated itself word for word. It also suggested the nine circles nature of the story, truly leaving no exit, but many suggestions and ambiguities.


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