Thomas Pasquenza's Afterthoughts is a No Exit for the self-help generation. Sartre's original took three characters whose sins ranged from cowardice to cruelty to baby-murder and placed them in a living room. There were no torturers in sight, nothing to suggest the characters were in hell, except that the door did not open, and the bell-pull didn't work. But, as Garcin, Inez and Estelle eventually discover, there is "no exit" from this room, and in Sartre's famous words, "L'enfer, c'est les autres:" Hell is other people.
But that existentialism business will never go over in the '90s. It's just too negative. Murder your parents? Confess to child abuse in your past, and you're off the hook. Look contrite, confess your sins, and you can go. This is the world that Afterthoughts gives us. Sartre's characters were stuck in Hell. Wouldn't it be nicer if we could each just tell our stories, forgive ourselves, and get to go to Heaven instead?
In Sartre, the most startling moment occurs when the single door finally opens, and yet even then they cannot not leave. No physical door holds them in, but they are stuck together. In this rewrite, the door opens after one character suddenly realizes that she should forgive herself. One by one (except one) they join hands, look towards the brilliant white light and go out in a touchy-feely haze of togetherness and forgiveness.
Only the Soldier (Troy Hall) has not joined into the confessional orgy of forgiveness, and thus he cannot leave. Left alone on stage, he finally confesses to himself his sin: Like Garcin, he was a deserter, and he left the men under his command to die. But unlike the others, he does not forgive himself, and as he looks toward the other side of the stage, a red light comes up (a less-than-subtle contrast to the white light of forgiveness) and he walks to his "home."
Hell isn't others in Pasquenza's No Exit. It's the punishment inflicted on you for refusing to share. And share they did. The Boy (Justin Yoo) tells of being abused by his father, but finally taking the belt from him and beating the father to death. The Brother (Mark Joe Lawrence) admits to incestuous sex with the Sister (Christina Bauer) "with a gentle hand and a loving stroke." She is a little slow and speaks in lines like, "They're all hurting inside. Terrible pain." The incestuous sex only took place after she was raped and beaten by her boyfriend. And the guilt from their actions resulted in suicide. The Girl (Susan Spano) was killed turning tricks, choked to death while performing oral sex. "I was never treated like a human being in my life," she adds. As the Girl tells of her promiscuous past, the Sister asks piteously: "Did any of them ever say I love you?" and the Boy adds: "The little I got in my lifetime. It meant everything to me."
The production did what it could with the material, and the actors were all solid. But they could not do much with the text. "Why am I telling you this?" asks the Boy, "I'm telling you because I have to. I can't hold this in no more." When the Soldier responds "Jesus Christ, what is this? True Confessions? I don't want to hear any of this," one must admit that he has a point.
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Copyright 1997 Sarah Stevenson