Three recent graduates from Houston's High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, with a mission to put on genre defying musicals and rarely-performed plays, founded Bit of a Stretch Theatre Co. in 2010. For their inaugural season, they performed Tina Landau and Adam Guettel's musical Floyd Collins. After planting a seed in the Houston Theatre scene with last summer's show, their roots and longevity are being firmly set with their sophomore season's exquisite first production of existentialist Jean-Paul Sarte's No Exit-a play set in hell and that examines our relationships with each other.
Emma Martinsen expertly directs the production. She keeps Sarte's heavy themes accessible and enjoyable for the audience, especially in the perfectly delivered profound final moments. No blocking choice or movement seems out of place or unnatural. Moreover, through Emma Martinsen's direction, each actor is able to pull out all the emotional and psychological depths of human existence, powerfully delivering the lengthy monologues. These same monologues in less qualified hands would be monotonous bores, but Emma Martinsen's direction keeps them richly fascinating.
Wiley DeWeese's original underscoring of the show is a superb addition to the words and staging. He adeptly creates thematic elements that hauntingly follow each character and embodies their emotional experiences and motivations throughout the show. Furthermore, Wiley DeWeese's music heightens the mood of the show and truly allows the monologues to stand out, providing an insightful and visceral depth to each captivating moment.
Jacob Perkel, as the Valet, is the first character the audience encounters. He does a fantastic job being sinister and unnerving in his charm and helpfulness, setting the hellish tone for this show. From his wide, toothy grin to his obliging submissiveness, Jacob Perkel's Valet will make the audience just as uneasy as the characters on the stage.
Brandon Hobratschk, flipping between moments of misogynistic masculinity and tender vulnerability, deftly portrays Joseph Garcin. He is instantly relatable and keeps the audience enthralled as he showcases the depths of Garcin's multi-leveled infidelities and utter cowardice. Brandon Hobratschk handles each monologue with sincerity, making each utterance believable and real.
Betty Marie Muessig, who takes the audience on an enthralling and shocking journey, skillfully portrays Estelle Rigault. She begins the show as a convincing and relatable innocent, and as she becomes metaphorically naked, Betty Marie Muessig handles the twisted psychological depths of the character without a flaw. She maintains the ability to be relatable through her desire, but inability, to keep secrets. She easily exudes the sexuality of Estelle Rigault as well, attempting to control the other characters through her guile-filled feminine charms.
Inez Serrano, as played by Meg Wozniak, is a show-stopping force to be reckoned with. She ensnares the audiences' attention through the instantly entrancing diabolical duplicity that she projects. Meg Wozniak makes Inez relatable in her sheer disdain for humanity, for we have all felt that way at one time or another. Also, Meg Wozniak comfortably portrays Inez as an antagonist, constantly manipulating the other two characters and making it clear that the torture in Hell comes from who you are to spend the rest of eternity with, not pokers and fire.
Every aspect of the production is of a professional quality, which speaks volumes to the ability of the charismatic and driven youth that run Bit of a Stretch Theatre Co. It is amazing and inspiring what they have done and what they stand for. This company is truly one of Houston's buried treasures! Do not miss this production of No Exit or any of their other productions.