From hell to minimum wage

Joey Hill

UMKC’s University Theatre Association opened the department’s fall season last week with two productions, “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre and “Reasons to Be Pretty” by Neil LaBute.
“No Exit” premiered at the Fishtank Performance Studio on Wyandotte Street in the Crossroads with an interesting stylistic choice in presentation. The actors Bradely J. Thomas, Anna Day, and Marianne Mckenzie performed fantastically within the confines of the large front windows of the theater instead of the large stage space further inside the building. Sartre’s play tells the story of three souls condemned to hell for past transgressions who find themselves in a well-furnished room.
The set design features white walls covered in empty picture frames and strange, color changing lights on the walls. At the beginning, all three souls make assert that they are not guilty of anything, but throughout the performance become worn down by each other’s company.
Garcin, played by Thomas, found his room in hell because of his mistreatment and infidelity toward his wife, recalling an instance when his wife brought he and his mistress coffee in bed.
Estelle, played by Day, is a beautiful socialite in hell because of her affair with a younger man, whom she eventually drove to suicide after drowning their child in a lake.
Finally, Inez, played by Mckenzie, is the only doomed soul who seems to be truthful from the very start. Having once seduced her cousin’s wife, she orders Garcin and Estelle to stop pretending their sentences in hell are mistakes.
Tempers flare quickly as Estelle, seeking male attention, advances on the woeful Garcin. Inez is annoyed by this, as she lusts after Estelle herself. The tension finally breaks when Estelle attempts to stab and kill Inez – though to no avail, as Inez is already dead. In a brief fit of madness the trio laughs in horror, realizing that they are eternally trapped in a hell that, as director Ethan Zogg states, “is not what it’s supposed to be.”
The second of the two premieres, “Reasons to be Pretty,” was at the Performing Arts Center on campus. Keeping a minimal cast, the play only starred four actors: Steven Miles as the blundering Greg, Yasmeen Wilcox as Greg’s ex-girlfriend Steph and Lindsay Nelson as the commanding wife of the womanizing Kent, played by John Van Winkle.
With an aggressive start, the play begins with a heated argument between Steph and Greg regarding a comment Greg made about Steph’s looks. Physical appearance plays an extremely huge role in the play’s plot, with relationships and friendships called into question and broken as a result. What becomes clearer as the play progresses is Greg’s inability to understand the perspectives of his friends until it is too late. Steph walks out on Greg when he finally admits to calling her face “regular” while talking to his friend Kent about a new girl at work, Crystal.
Still not understanding what he did wrong, Greg enlists the help of Kent, a misogynistic character whom Van Winkle brings to life with broiling aggression. Greg quickly discovers the cause of the break up was Kent’s wife Carly, who is also the security guard where they work. Carly gives Greg the cold shoulder, seeing he has no idea what his comment actually meant to Steph, and she enlists Kent’s help in ganging up on Greg. Kent later suggests he doesn’t respect Carly or her position of authority in the workplace. He confides in Greg and reveals that he’s having an affair with Crystal.
In a rocky attempt to bring them back together, Greg invites Steph to lunch at a mall, only to have it go horribly wrong. Steph announces to the entire food court all Greg’s physical aspects that she despises. After this scene, LaBute adds homage to Steph’s tirade with f Kent telling Greg about all the physical aspects of Crystal that he adores.
Steph gives the first of four personal monologues of the characters after the food court scene. In a stunning performance by Wilcox, she explains while holding back tears that she always saw her face as one with “okay” features, and feels as though Greg looks at her like “some old Buick out in the backyard that he keeps thinking about fixing but just can’t get to it.”
Other character monologues offer intensely personal looks into who they are. Carly’s is among the most stirring. She addresses the burdens of being attractive, and how she knows Kent wouldn’t want her if she wasn’t. The most extreme moment is when she mentions the way men follow her around the aisles of super markets and offer to help her carry groceries to her car. She reveals that she is so disgusted by this display that she has pulled over to the side of the road to vomit.
As the play ends, Greg is confronted by Carly and her suspicions about Kent’s infidelity, and Kent and Greg end their friendship in a brawl at the company baseball game. Steph moves on and marries someone else, and finally Greg offers his monologue. He confesses that he has gone back to school and has learned a great deal from this experience.
Directors Ethan Zogg and Jo Bledsoe both crafted incredible views into the hearts and minds of humanity with these productions.
“We live in a society that promotes our quote ‘Perfect Facebook lives,’ but we never really see the struggles, fears, and insecurities that most people face in their relationships, and everyday lives,” Bledsoe said.
Both plays were wonderfully acted and offered a dynamite beginning to the theatrical season.