TO APRIL 20

When writer Cradeau (Scott Fortier) takes the stage in the Catalyst Theater Company’s production of Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, he tells the bellboy (Christopher Gallu) that it doesn’t resemble the Hell he’s imagined (ya know: pitchforks, lava, gnawing rodents). Indeed: For this production, Catalyst (the program lists the company as production designer) renders the famed drawing room as a colorful but stark arrangement of three angular wooden boxes (representing sofas) and a mantelpiece crowned by a labyrinthlike ornament. A novel approach, it recalls a back corner of Dr. Who’s Tardis, though this image doesn’t really jibe with some of the text’s World War II references. But on the whole, the District of Columbia Arts Center’s small, black-brick-walled stage is well-matched to the setting of Catalyst’s solid staging of Sartre’s existential work; the open-air passage from DCAC’s lobby to the stage, for example, made Cradeau’s attempt to escape Hell (particularly on the frigid night I attended) chilling. The three leads—Fortier, Toni Rae Brotons as postal clerk Inez, and September Marie Merkle as socialite Estelle (pictured)—depict well the shifting allegiances and interdependencies that arise among three characters whose sins (cowardice, manipulation, and infanticide, respectively) confine them together for eternity. The play’s tagline—”Hell is other people”—struck me as especially important: Remove one of these characters and the resulting two could, with effort and willful ignorance, likely eke out a reasonably civil life together for an eon or two. But with the third, petty animosities and power plays inevitably rule the day. Take them all in at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday (except April 10th and 17th) to Saturday, April 20, at the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW. $20. (202) 462-7833. (Joe Dempsey)