Hell is other people--depending on the company. Or at least that seems to be an underlying theme in Jean-Noel Fenwick's "Talk Show From Hell," a slight but satisfying parody of Sartre's "No Exit" at the Open Fist Theatre.
Fenwick could be labeled the anti-Sartre. Whereas the three damned souls in Sartre's gloomy opus were irredeemably agonized, Fenwick's sinners are intriguing conversationalists who really know how to while away an afterlife.
As machinery chugs offstage, a woman tumbles down a chute into the anteroom of hell. This is Coralie (Samantha Bennett), a recently deceased radio talk show host with feminist leanings and a guilty secret. Hard on her heels follows Christian (Rod Sell), a conservative political consultant, and Gonzague (Mitchel Evans), a flamboyant hairdresser. All arrive wrapped in plastic, like prime cuts of beef lined up for inspection.
A more antithetical trio is difficult to imagine. After tearing off their wrappings--an amusing metaphor for the preconceptions and prejudices they must also shed if they are to achieve salvation--the three evaluate their circumstances. Coralie bought the farm in a glider crash, and Gonzague has just died after a long illness. However, Christian's death is far more mysterious--and he's determined to find out what happened. But first, he has to overcome his natural antipathy for homosexuals and enlist the help of the serendipitously psychic Gonzague.
Translated from the French by Jeremy Lawrence and Catherine Popesco and executed with devilish aplomb by director Florinel Fatulescu and his comical cast, Fenwick's play runs in repertory with Matei Visniec's "How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients," also directed by Fatulescu. While "Talk Show" is at times little more than a charming divertissement, it wraps things up with a surprising philosophical punch.
* "Talk Show From Hell," Open Fist Theatre, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 3 p.m.; also April 29 and May 4 and 6, 8 p.m.; April 30, 3 p.m.; no show April 28. Ends May 6. $15. (323) 882-6912. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.