On May 27, 1944, while Ernest Hemingway was boozing it up in his hospital bed in London, the diminutive black-bereted French philosopher and author Jean-Paul Sartre was in Paris, celebrating the premiere of his new play Huis Clos at the Theatre du Vieux-Colombier, where before the war crowds had gathered to see Beatrice Bretty in celebrated roles. Though she was living in exile, during the occupation the theaters were still packed. In fact, rarely had the scene been livelier. A play with a famously absurdist message, Huis Clos was the story of three self-indulgent sinners locked in a room with “no exit.” In French, the title is a pointedly sharp one: Huis Clos is the literal translation of the Latin judicial term in camera, the phrase for a trial held in private chambers.
Sartre’s play was disturbingly timely. As the occupation was reaching its turning point that summer, it would soon start dawning on plenty of sinners that they, too, might end up trapped behind closed doors in Paris, facing judgment and agonizing consequences.
– The Hotel on Place Vendome by Tilar J. Mazzeo