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'No Exit' - A Mystery Box You Can't Escape

No Exit, an adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Huis clos,” by Lumen Repertory Theatre, is a disconcerting mystery box that traps you in its intrigue. This remarkable performance beckons you to delve into the human mind’s darkest corners as three newly departed souls are abruptly gathered in a solitary room.

The expertly designed and built stage is a small, disorienting, askew room that pulls you into its depths, with odd and seemingly uncomfortable furniture, while an unexpected digital screen on a window introduces a playful juxtaposition.

Josh Andrews’ Valet opens the show on a high note, infusing the stage with a highly animated and “spirited” performance that sets an energetic tone. He balances comedy and mystery, making you question if this is really going to be a depiction of hell or just a fun diversion. His performance gives the initial illusion of a lively romp, cleverly setting the stage for the incoming conflict.

However, the illusion fades quickly with the arrival of Stefan Renaud, impeccably played by Jeff Drushal. Drushal masterfully conveys Renaud’s confusion and discomfort, especially when left alone in the disorienting space. His despair seems to seep into the room, turning the atmosphere eerily claustrophobic.

Adding to the tumult, Kathryn Kuhn’s Inez slinks onto the stage, a compelling mix of strength and villainy. Just as tensions peak between her and Renaud, Kate McManus’s Estelle enters, a picture of uptight elegance with a balletic grace that hides deeper turbulence.

Kathryn Kuhn, Kate McManus and Jeff Drushal (left to right)
Kathryn Kuhn, Kate McManus and Jeff Drushal (left to right)

The sound design in No Exit is immersive and nuanced, enhancing the cinematic feel of the play. Each music cue was carefully orchestrated, enveloping the audience in the characters’ eerie reality. This attention to sonic detail made the overall experience much more tactile and emotional.

The play also brilliantly incorporates well-stylized video elements, displayed on a digital screen integrated into the set design. This screen, ingeniously juxtaposed against the more traditional aspects of the set, adds a layer of modernity and surrealness. The images displayed show distored glimpses of what the characters’ see happening in their absense on Earth. This unconventional storytelling device significantly contributes to the disorienting, otherworldly atmosphere, serving as a silent but impactful narrator and keeps the audience entranced.

The intermission brings an unexpected, creepy thrill that won’t be spoiled here.

The second act digs deeper into the psyche of the characters. As the trio grapples with their personal hells, revelations emerge in a torrent of introspective dialogue. Renaud sinks further into his own despair and vacillates between fear and bravado.

Kathryn Kuhn, in the role of Inez, presents a captivating mix of strength and potential menace. Her character exacerbates Renaud’s tension leaving the audience wondering — for a brief moment — if, perhaps, she isn’t there to be tortured at all. Kuhn’s Inez is fascinatingly repellent. Her predatory advances towards Estelle and dominant presence on stage embody the perfect amount of discomfort and intrigue.

Kathryn Kuhn, Kate McManus and Jeff Drushal (left to right)
Kathryn Kuhn, Kate McManus and Jeff Drushal (left to right)

Kate McManus as Estelle presents an intriguing performance, marked by an elegant façade. Beneath the polished exterior, she conveys a truly indifferent inhumanity, not born out of apathy, but stemming from a deep-rooted self-centeredness. McManus skillfully captures this complex character, maintaining Estelle’s outward poise while subtly exposing the character’s core incapability of genuine empathy.

Adapted and directed by Brian Niece, No Exit takes you on a twisted journey through a philosophical hellscape. Stellar performances by the ensemble make for a performance you won’t easily forget. An absolute must-see.

Beyond the typical offerings of community theatre in Jacksonville, Lumen Repertory Theatre sets itself apart with a commitment to professional excellence. No Exit is a testament to this ethos, featuring a cast and crew that includes Equity union members. The caliber of their performances brings a level of complexity and depth to the characters that is truly mesmerizing. This dedication to professionalism ensures that audiences in Northeast Florida are treated to an elevated theatrical experience that transcends the conventional, making for a memorable evening of live theatre.

No Exit runs from Friday, July 28, 2023 until Sunday, August 12, 2023 Jacksonville University’s Swisher Theater. For more photos, the complete cast and crew list and the link to buy tickets, visit the No Exit page on JaxPlays.