San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Café Britt Theater Stages Sartre Play

“NO Exit,” “La Puerta Cerrada,” and“Huis Clos,” written by philosopher, existentialist,novelist and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980), are all the sameplay; it just depends on the language youspeak.Billed as trilingual, “La Puerta Cerrada”plays Saturday nights only at the DionisioEcheverría Theater on Café Britt’scoffee plantation, midway between Herediaand Barva, north of San José. However,the billing is deceiving, as only occasionalphrases or words in English and French areused; these are subsequently reinforced bythe Spanish text. Sartre’s plays are not easyto understand at the best of times; nevertheless,if your Spanish is up to it, “LaPuerta Cerrada” is well worth seeing.During the day, the theater is used formultimedia presentations and live skitsrecounting the history of coffee, but in theevening it becomes a venue for works bynational and international playwrights, aswell as experimental theater.“No Exit” was chosen by directorMaría Bonilla to commemorate the centennialof Sartre’s birth in Paris. A classicexistentialist work in the French tradition,the play explores the mental torture of hell– portrayed not as Milton or Dante’s burninginferno, but as three people trapped ina room with no doors or windows, whomust endure each other for all eternity.The set, designed by Ana Muñoz, isstunning in its simplicity: a black-boxstage, a rear multimedia projection screen,and three wooden chairs of differentheights. One chair is tied together withrope; another is decorated with two eggtimers, the third with a gold filigree spiderweb. Placed center stage, the chairs are litby two blood-red spotlights and becomean integral part of the action during theperformance.The play opens with Garcin beingpushed into the room by an unseen force.Melvin Méndez’s interpretation of thecowardly yet brutal wife tormentor wasplayed with a perception that made thecharacter’s past life and present agonytotally believable. The youth, José AlbertoAlpízar, only appears on the screen. Cladin punk rocker attire, he is an outrageousangel who harasses Garcin the moment hemakes his entrance.Claudia Catania gave an excellent performanceas the three-time murderess anddemoniac lesbian Inez, as did Erica Rojasas the pretty, narcissistic baby-killerEstelle. The three characters relive theirpast and theorize on visions of the present,as they suffer eternal perdition.Under the expert direction of Bonilla,the continuous movement of these professional,physically adroit actors, combinedwith the symbolic use of the chairs, adds ariveting visual impact. The performancelasts just over an hour, during which timeall three characters torture each other withtheir delusions and failures as humanbeings, as they come to the realization thathell is other people.A professional, well-produced andthought-provoking work, Bonilla’s compellingadaptation of Sartre’s play illustratesthe philosopher’s theories of existenceand anguish.Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m.,Saturdays, through June 4. The ¢2,500($5.30) admission includes a glass of CaféBritt’s coffee liqueur. For reservations, call260-2748. To get to the theater, from thePlaza Heredia commercial center, continueup the hill to the stop sign. Turn right ontothe Barva road. At the first traffic light,turn left and follow the signs to Café Britt.

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