Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — Sometimes the director is also an actor, and that could be hell. But heck, the play is about hell.

Starting Friday night, the Twin City Theatre Company presents “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and Aaron Polk is the director.

He’s also cast in the role of Cradeau.

“Early last week, we found ourselves with the role vacant and had no idea how to proceed,” Polk said. “The role is, essentially, the lead, and we had less than two weeks before we opened. Finding an actor to memorize and fill such a large role seemed daunting and unlikely. The producers suggested me.”

Polk had a strategy for the play long before that.

He had “No Exit” on a short list of plays he’d wanted to direct since college.

In the 1944 existentialist play, Sartre wrote about three characters, all free from the responsibilities and joys of being alive, who are locked in a room together for all time.

"My background is in playwrighting, and I have long admired this script," he said. "To me, it is an almost perfect construction."

And a manageable one.

“The time became right for me to direct it, because I wanted something that was smaller scale for my second outing with the Twin City Theatre Company. Last year, I directed ‘Deathtrap,’ which presented any number of technical difficulties in a space as small as SoDo,” he said of the company's venue at 111 S. Walnut St., C. “‘No Exit’ is four people, one set. There’s no light cues or props.”

So taking on the role did not overwhelm him.

“The show was pretty much directed when this happened,” Polk said. “We were right on the cusp of moving into the theater from our rehearsal space. I had an acting coach on staff, who agreed to step in. Essentially, she’s fine-tuning, recalibrating. She’s filling in the color on a drawing made by me.”

Polk stayed very true to the philosopher’s vision.

“I have not updated the language or the time period. This translation, though, is a newer one. It’s translated by Paul Bowles, and his translation makes some changes to the original script,” the director said.

This script focuses a lot on the torture inherent in reliving the past, Polk said.

It “in particular revolves around the question of ‘If I see myself through the eyes of others, am I still proud of what I see?’ It also asks, very bluntly, if it is right to judge an entire life by a single act.”

There are no torture racks or brimstone.

“This hell is more of a personal nature, the burning humiliation of an individual soul as it is slowly stripped of its secrecy by the cruel curiosity of its companions,” Polk said. “For our purposes, hell is other people.”