03/13/2014 12:49 pm ET Updated May 13, 2014

Ascending to Hell: No Exit at the Pearl Theatre/ Satchmo at the Waldorf at the Westside Theater

Looks like hell is a step up, as the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre's mid century allegory step off the elevator into a swank upscale loft in the Pearl Theater Company's stylish production of No Exit. A first New York revival since its award winning Broadway debut in 1946, the play, adapted from the French by Paul Bowles, is freshened up: a statue of Napoleon from the original is now a modernist sculpture, a microcosm of the loft space. In this peculiar art piece, the rectangular shoebox-sized spaces are multiplied and piled up, like apartments in a high rise, reflecting the dwelling where three characters discuss life's meaning, as it were, romping about, posing on three divans. The ensemble, featuring Bradford Cover, Jolly Abraham, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, and Pete McElligott, is good at conveying this imagined post-death dialogue. And this being 2014, the politics are less specific than Sartre's post-war vision of eternity, but the mood could not be more focused. Behind a scrim on both sides of the stage, the detritus of lives, broken furnishings, and just plain stuff are a reminder: You won't need them here.

The work of John Douglas Thompson delivering the words of three characters in the one-man tour de force, Satchmo at the Waldorf, seems miraculous. Taking place in a hotel room with Thompson stooped over for Louis Armstrong, upright and snappy for manager, Joe Glaser, and just groovy for Miles Davis, Terry Treachout's biographical portrait speaks to the gripes and triumphs of an American original. You can even hear the music in his voice.

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