misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

Camus's Les Justes (The Just Assassins) at the WSC, Arlington

Dear friends and readers,

Since I usually write shorter postings here, I thought I'd recommend going to the WSC's production of Camus's stunningly empathetic and insightful Les Justes on this blog rather than Ellen and Jim have a Blog, Two, where I usually write about the plays, movies, or operas we (me and Yvette or me and the Admiral or all three of us) go to. 

The Washington Shakespeare Company has done it again: taken an older classic play and done it in such a way as to make it rivetingly relevant to our world today. Last year there was Shakespeare's Richard III, a parable about politicians and Schiller's Mary Stuart as adopted by Peter Oswald.  They did Camus's Caligula too (as I recall). Caligula where violence was central to the play's plot-design; Les Justes is centrally about violence itself, why resorted to, what its performance does to ordinary people (as opposed to those who run the state who are represented by the police officer).

They've taken Camus's play -- based on a real incident (it really happened in 1949 in Algiers) -- the period 1870 to 1900 (after the destruction of the French Commune and alteration of Paris into huge boulevards), and made it speak about people today referred to in the US press as "terrorists" and show us scenes where in emotional trauma and coolness too, in anger and despair, they plot deaths, deal with failures to execute their plans, and then after the plan is finally done, coping with the aftermath of fear, anxiety, remorse, exultation. The end of the 19th century had numerous such groups -- in France after the failure of the last commune in 1870 and the terrific bloodbath the French gov't inflicted on the people who manned and womaned the barricades.  Felix Feneon's uniquely adequate translation of Austen's Northanger Abbey was done in a 2 year period of imprisonment after he set off a bomb in a Paris cafe; this is the closest I've read about to the one explored by Camus. 

The point is to show us how these young people can be turned into such hating, of others, of themselves, by deprivation, humiliation, how maddened they are.  We are to admire and sympathize completely and yet see how hopeless is the deadly action and how they set limits to what they can do -- as opposed to loathsome people who set no limits to what they will do (the police officer and others who messenger types re-enact and describe). Some of the finest dialogue is actually given to the policeman (seen against a green-and-white board) -- he gets the suavely ironic lines, the muted laughter at them.

Some reviewers call it remote or said that it grew more remote as it went on. Not at all. These reviewers have not understood what they have seen because the framing for our modern politics is so skewed off.
Here is someone more adequate though (like me) he does not want to spell it out. At its close the chief assassin (you see just above with the officer half-taunting to the back) has been executed, and returns as a mad ghost in elegant upper class gentleman's garb.

The production is superbly well-done: the costumes are part of what makes it. Black and white against a black-and-white setting; those who deviate stand out:  the rich dark red and browns of the duchess -- it was a Laura Ashley kind of outfit -- I just loved it. The costumes fit the schematic nature of the play, the types, the blocking. The young actors were just magnificent in their sense of life's nuances.  The mode was French classical drama at heart, abstract in conception (they discuss the philosophical issues in generic terms as Sartre in Les Mouches [The flies] but the actors worked very hard and Camus's wit and complicated presentation of terrorists came across. We were there last night, edified, enjoyed, riveted.

Don't miss it. No one will give you the needed understanding of such anguished desolate driven people as Camus. Violence, who does it, why, what those who it's inflicted on think and feel. A thorough and good review here

And upstairs an exhibit of Frida Kahlo photographs.  There is a 20 minute film upstairs about Kahlo too. A bar downstairs. 

Amid the desolation of the huge cement buildings, the coldness of the glass buildings high against the night sky, the fast-moving roads all round with their soulless garages,
Artisphere offers quite an evening if you have the strength to go. Not many there last night -- but not no one. 30 in the theater and about that many moving through the Kahlo exhibit.


Tags: 19th century, 20th century, adaptations, documentaries, ice-skating, politics, romance, seasonal, teaching

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