Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit” (known to many a French student as “L’Huis Clos”) is notoriously complicated to read and even more so to stage. I found it fascinating and a little funny, then, that not only are two separate productions of this beastly script opening at Yale this semester, but that they are both opening IN THE SAME WEEKEND. Crazy, right? I e-mailed both directors to set up an interview this week and find out some answers: why this play, why now and most of all, what about the competition!? Moses Balian ’13 promptly met me in the Pierson Common Room on Tuesday night, but Brian Hoefling ’12 was too “caught up in the Massachusetts election” to meet the first half of the week, so his responses were sent to me via e-mail. Do not judge the comparative wits. Improv is hard, y’all.
Q: Why this play now?
MB: I read this play over the summer, and I told myself I wanted this to be the first play I directed in college. It’s short. It’s really intense. I thought it would be a simple but really powerful first endeavor. The costumes don’t change, the set is the same throughout, but the dialogue is really intimate.
BH: Maybe there’s a reason two different groups thought the times called for hell and existentialism. We’ll see if audiences think either of us is right about that.
Q: Why this play at Yale?
MB: It needs the kind of audience you only have for Sudler productions at Yale. It would be a disservice to do in front of large audiences. And I think it’s a play that Yalies could relate to more than a general audience could. Dialogue is snappy and witty. All the characters think they are smarter than everyone else — something all of us can relate to, especially pre-Yale. I feel like most of us are coming from environments where we do feel like we’re smarter than everyone else. It refers to the intellectual beast within — the dialogue is really smart but the emotions are really carnal, bestial, the core essence of darkness, of humanity. I think it exposes a lot of feelings Yalies have experienced but wouldn’t really be prepared to talk about.
BH: I hit on the idea that “No Exit” and the Stiles Little Theater were a perfect fit for each other around May, picked up and reread a copy of the play and confirmed my suspicion. Stiles Sudler funding was secured in the fall, a Stiles-heavy production team was assembled. In short, this is a proper seeing-off for Stiles theater and the Stiles Little Theater before the renovation changes everything. That’s the idea, anyway.
Q: Anything particularly special in your ideas for Staging?
MB: I don’t know if I want to share, hmm … I’ll say the bronze centerpiece — it really fascinates me and it’s the only real set besides the couches in the show, and I want to take that in a more modern form in my show than it probably does in more traditional productions.
BH: This is a very intimate show, and, of course, we will take advantage of the small space we’re using. I want the audience to feel the heat from the lights, to perspire along with the actors — to feel like they, too, are trapped in the Second Empire drawing room.
Q: What about your translation?
MB: Ummm, when I read the play for the first time, the translation (S. Gilbert) struck me as extremely modern and very readable for a modern audience — I’m going to incorporate these elements in the aesthetic flavor of the production. In this year. It’s a timeless interaction, and I think it’d be more effectively delivered by modern characters to a modern audience. A sort of general modernism, not necessarily at Yale. Setting it at Yale would be kinda tacky.
BH: This will not be a new translation, although particular adjustments are likely. Deva Altamirano ’10 has agreed to assist us with this.
Q: How do you feel about there being another production of this play this semester?
MB: I think it’s … let me be diplomatic here … um … inconvenient. When Brian expressed to me that he had planned to put up this show I sympathized with his frustration and disappointment, and … umm … I think the two shows going up certainly isn’t a bad thing. I think it will be good for people to see different interpretations. I haven’t talked to Brian about our artistic interpretations. I’m not even sure if we’re using the same translation. But I think it will be a very interesting, potentially educational theatrical experience. I think it can certainly be a positive experience for both productions’ spectators … It’s intriguing to say the least.
BH: Regarding the presence of two productions, Moses Balian and I have acknowledged this over e-mail. Part of the confusion arose from the YDC Web site, which never worked properly for me when I tried to add a listing in the fall. A few days after Moses put his show up, I got an e-mail that my listing had gone live and that I should review it and correct any false information. At this point, I do think having two productions of the show in one semester is a bit silly, but I and my team have invested too much in this project already for me to simply set it aside. I think Moses and his folks feel the same way, so we may well end up with two shows.
Q: Do you feel competitive with the other production?
MB: Naturally. I think it’s a healthy competition. It raises the bar. It … this is my first Yale production kinda wiped off the table. I’m thrown in with the big boys to a certain extent … There’s something I’m going to be compared to. I hope it pushes my show to a level it wouldn’t get to without this extra nudge.
BH: If it comes to that, I’ll be interested to see what the other side puts out. It’s never too early for freshmen to experiment with directing.