A helluva show

Greg Corradini

This weekend the West Bank Arts Quarter will be a scene of imprisonment.

Jeremey Catterton, a senior in the bachelor of fine arts actor training program, has combined contemporary literature by prisoners with Jean-Paul Sartre’s play “No Exit,” a meditation on life’s futility.

In Catterton’s “ExitNoExit: As Performed by the Inmates of Ghostwood Minimum Security Prison,” the audience is placed in proximity to guards wielding musical instruments and prisoners with multiple personalities.

Garcin, Inez and Estelle, Sartre’s three main characters, are still present in Catterton’s production.

In Sartre’s script, they find themselves keeping company in the same well-furnished room. Each person has died and expects a stereotypical version of either heaven or hell.

Confounded by their surroundings, the characters question the nature of their imprisonment and their tormentors’ ambiguity.

But in Catterton’s “ExitNoExit,” single characters are abandoned for ubiquitous manifestations. At different intervals, one of six prisoners takes turns stepping forward to hold a three-part dialogue with mobile television screens.

“I had originally planned on it being a one man show, where I would act with two other screens,” Catterton said, referring to an earlier draft of his script, written two years ago.

In preparing “ExitNoExit,” Catterton researched historical prison uprisings such as the Attica prison riots as well as prisoners’ poetry.

With the help of a grant, Catterton was also able to expand the production’s scope and use music, visual art and movement disciplines. “ExitNoExit” uses student composers and musicians to create the play’s slinky theme song. The production also made use of a choreographer and video production and editing teams.

“(The play’s) purpose is to get different University departments to mingle and collaborate on work. I think this medium is the perfect way to let us all experiment with one another in our art forms and create this product that explores these ideas of imprisonment, manipulation and existentialism. It’s an all-inclusive and total theatrical experience,” Catterton said.

While the prison literature incorporated into the text adds prisoners’ personal voices, the most interesting aspect of “ExitNoExit” might be the art exhibit on display before the show.

“Minnesota State Prison in Stillwater agreed to allow their ‘offenders’ to contribute art for the show. I gave them a copy of the script and told them this is an opportunity to express themselves to the public,” Catterton said.

The art exhibit affords prisoners the chance to create something that can stand apart from the production. The student viewers of the exhibit and play, far removed from prison’s crushing isolation, complete a communication process between the prisoners and the outside world.