October 19, 2019

No Exit, South Florida, and my own cycle of hell

“So here I am again” I can’t help thinking as I write this review of Sartre's iconic play, No Exit, where hell has been set in a contemporary Miami living room. “Here” being, for me at least, my family's home in South Florida. Where it is always hot. The perspiration makes my hair frizz and skin break out, and even my dog finds the humidity too sweltering for her liking. She is fine with long walks in London or New York but here, even she, cannot wait to get back into the air con’s cool embrace.

For now, I am living in a place where I can’t drive, or find many work opportunities. But it's a difficult place to be self-destructive too — seeing as with my family's help I get the physical and mental health care I need, which I couldn’t manage much on my own. In fact, there were (and still are) days where the depression claws its way so deep into my psyche, “chemical imbalance” or not, meds or not, the tears have nowhere else to go but out.

Whether it’s caused by missing my best friend who accidently overdosed three years ago, the political situation in the UK (where I earned my undergrad creative writing degree), or my distress at not finding work here (when it was so much easier in London), my depression continues. You see, I spent most of my adult life from age 16 to 24 in the UK and most of my friends and all of my work contacts are overseas. Being part Polish (through my grandfather), I applied for an EU passport so I could legally exist in England, a move, after Brexit, that seems suddenly in vain.

I often feel — as the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit must  — like I am stuck in my own personal cycle of hell and have no way out. For example, a while back I attended a New Year's Eve party hosted by a childhood friend-of-a-friend, *Michelle. She is a strikingly pretty Latina with glittery translucent shadow and dark, mascara-caked lashes framing her eyes. As is *June, my friend who invited me to the house party. My (now ex) fiancé was there as well, along with a “friend” of Michelle’s, I'll call *Mike.

Mike came along, found the X-box, and started playing Grand Theft Auto 2, headphones plugged in so he could chat with *Carlos, the other player. As if that was not annoying enough to the rest of us, he also began blasting some really horrible pop and R & B.

What made the situation both ironic and even more irritating was the way Michelle kept throwing herself all over Mike. For those of you who know what girls in their late teens and early twenties are like, you will get the type. The way she wore her outfit — the tiny denim skirt and spandex top — cleavage enhanced. How she asked him questions while touching his shoulder. How she would flick her long, brunette, straightened hair back and move her push up-bra subtly toward his face.              

After watching director Andrew Paul Davis’s latest interpretation of Sartre's classic 1940’s play, that particular New Year's Eve encounter immediately came to mind. Estelle (brilliantly portrayed by the promising Ashley Nicole Lara) was all over Garcin. (Johnny Contini was his usual fantastic chameleon self and depicted the tortured nature of Garcin brilliantly.) However, they were not the only two stuck in that room. Inez was the obvious third wheel, rotten to the core and loving every second of it, constantly commenting on how these two could never find true love with her there to expose their flaws and weaknesses. (Despite her strong facade, Natalie Brenes was wonderful at showcasing her character's weaknesses as well, number one being her obvious feelings for Estelle.)

Let us go back for a moment to my New Year’s Eve encounter. Besides the presence of outside observers (me, Tony, and June), there were additional forces at work blocking Michelle and Mike from forming a genuine connection: the really annoying music, being one, and his being plugged into headphones and talking to some guy named Carlos, being the other. Just like Garcin rejected Estelle so he could hear the news of his demise from co-worker Gomez back on earth, Mike seemed to lose interest in Michelle’s advances the moment co-player Carlos was back in the game.

Moral of the story: It seems a lot of men accept others' opinions over their own — whether it be Gomez calling Garcin a coward during a speech in No Exit or Mike considering Carlos’s opinion of his abilities in Grand Theft Auto 2, over a lovely young woman basically throwing herself at him. Yes, my friends, I do agree with Jean-Paul Sartre when he said: “Hell is other people.” Or, in Michelle’s case: video games and a blasting radio. I don’t think most of the people at the party (if any) would have seen No Exit, but it is always interesting to me to see life imitating art and vice versa.

Donovan Mullings added a fittingly gruesome touch in his role as valet. His mannerisms and speech could not help reminding me of Samuel L. Jackson, especially with the lit-up eyes and beard stroking … apparently an improvisation of the actor's. Who knew beard stroking could be so sinister?

As for my own personal (New Year’s) hell, me and Tony booked an Uber after a few cups of Bailey's tea (my specialty drink … replace milk with Bailey’s in Earl Grey tea. Simply divine). And a nice catch-up with June. I wonder sometimes if Mike will ever notice Michelle. Just as in No Exit, the audience was left wondering if Estelle and Garcin would ever get it on … but Inez’s constant presence made this impossible.

Sometimes I think of the barriers we tend to erect in our own lives. For example, I was asked out by a lovely girl tonight but stayed in, as I wanted to write this review. I also, in full honesty, was tired, feeling a bit depressed about everything, and did not feel like making the effort of getting dressed up, etc. With any luck I can meet her another day, and after the explosion of my last relationship, I really believe, right now, what is meant to be will be.

I am also planning a trip to Prague, a Birthday/Unengagement party of sorts and I am really, truly excited about something for the first time in ages. For unlike the poor trapped souls in No Exit who have to remain in their cycles, I am determined to break mine.

I am resolved to stay sober, single (for now) and strong. I know no matter what the government or authorities throw my way, I will get to Prague, and possibly Riga (the capital of Latvia where a dear friend lives). I am tired of my own cycle of hell (Florida, City, Death, Self-destruction). I am writing a new narrative for my story. I will not be an Estelle, an Inez, or a Garcin. I will be the strongest Alison I can be. I will spread my wings, and I will soar. And if I do ever leave this planet, I hope it is to be reunited with the ones I have lost — not other damned souls like myself.

But if Sartre is correct in writing: “Man is nothing else than his plan; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he is therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts, nothing else than his life.” In that case, I am a woman determined to leave behind a damned good story.

Over and Out.

Alison