HELL Comes to Philadelphia in EgoPo’s Latest

by Walter Bender

Ross Beschler as The Man in EgoPo Classic Theater's HELL running in Philadelphia PA through May 15. (Photo credit: Steven DeMarinis)

EgoPo Classic Theater opened its latest production, HELL, on April 27. HELL is a dramatization of the novel by Henri Barbusse, described as arguably one of the greatest French novels ever written. EgoPo has translated and adapted the novel to the stage, offering the local audience a rare glimpse at this classic piece of French literature.

HELL takes place in a Paris boarding house, where “The Man” (Ross Beschler) discovers a hole in the wall of his room where he can observe what is taking place in the next room. He becomes obsessed with his voyeurism, and through his obsession we see his view of the world change. Mr. Beschler does a very credible job as The Man, his focus constantly toward the audience as the scenes he is “viewing” take place behind him. We see what he “sees”, and in doing so see both the actions he spies on and the reactions of the voyeur. Mary Lee Bednarek, Allen Radway, Ed Swidey, Cindy Spitko, Sean Lally, Sara Howard, and Sarah Schol fill out the cast as the many people The Man watches. Kudos to all for their concentration and versatility.

The set is the unspoken co-star of this production. Anthony Hostetter has designed a set that is beautiful and amazingly functional, with the back wall of The Man’s room opening to expose another room, and THAT room’s back wall opening to another area. Via this unique setting, we are able to watch everything that The Man describes as he “watches”. Matt Sharp’s lighting accents the production, and Ren Manley adds video projections at times on the walls (which were occasionally somewhat distracting and unnecessary.)

Director Lane Savadove and Ross Beschler adapted the novel, opting to retain much of the descriptive language of the original piece. While the poetry of the language is beautiful, much of it is superfluous in this piece, with the characters describing events that are taking place in our view. As such, HELL is very wordy and at times a bit plodding. The performances, however, are all first-rate and I appreciated the attempt to bring this piece to life.

HELL is a rare glimpse into the mind of a man obsessed with learning about life and others. Congratulations to the cast for some very fine work.

Adapted by Lane Savadove and Ross Beschler
from the novel by Henri Barbusse
Directed by Lane Savadove
April 26 – May 15, 2011
EgoPo Classic Theater
German Society
611 Spring Garden
Philadelphia PA

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