- The Just
- Written by
- Albert Camus
- Directed by
- Frank Cox-O’Connell
- Gregory Prest, Raquel Duffy
- Young Centre
- Runs Until
- Saturday, March 26, 2016
It's been a busy week for Bobby Theodore. The day after his translation of François Archambault's You Will Remember Me opened at Tarragon, his new translation of Albert Camus's The Just had its world premiere at Soulpepper.
It's one of the joys of theatre-going in our bilingual country that we can see French-language dramas – contemporary and classic – in fresh translations on a regular basis.
The Just – written in Paris in 1949 and set in Moscow in 1905 – concerns five socialist revolutionaries and self-proclaimed terrorists sitting in an apartment awaiting the arrival of the Grand Duke at the theatre across the street.
Yanek (Gregory Prest), also known as The Poet, who will throw the first bomb into the Duke's carriage, has nothing against the theatre. Indeed, he finds joy in the dress-up aspect of going undercover and believes poetic language is revolutionary.
This puts him on a collision course with Stepan (Brendan Wall), the newest member of the cell, recently escaped from prison. "Only the bomb is revolutionary," is his humourless philosophy. So is: "Sometimes not killing enough is killing for nothing."
As the socialist revolutionary most likely to be a future Stalinist, Wall gives the most notable performance, lifting what seems over-the-top on the page into a credible character. He burns with hatred, having been tortured, but somehow seems the most human of them all because of it.
Diego Matamoros also has a memorable turn as the den father of the terror cell and, later, a secret police agent, while Peter Fernandes makes an impression as a revolutionary who prefers theory to practice. Katherine Gauthier gets a nicely understated cameo as the Grand Duchess.
Surprisingly, it's the usually reliable Gregory Prest who disappoints as the main character Yanek. Camus's play eventually shifts from the terrorists all plotting and debating to this one antihero's inner struggle in prison. But Prest's performance is not grounded enough, or ambiguous enough, to make this scene feel anything less than perfunctory; it doesn't help that it comes after a tension-deflating and likely unnecessary intermission.
Then, there's Dora, a bomb-maker played by Raquel Duffy. It's a tough character to pull off: She's not only the sole woman in the cell, but saddled with being a symbol of womanhood as well. Duffy, aiming for intensity, only ends up making her seem even more like a symbol.
A recent staging of Les justes in French by Stanislas Nordey at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa emphasized the play's text as part of philosophical debate in postwar Paris. Director Frank Cox-O'Connell tries harder to make us believe that these are people in a room. By the time you're heard the word "justice" for the 20th time, however, it's hard to see the characters' humanity through all the talk – and that makes it hard to feel for the loss of it in Yanek and Dora.
If the play doesn't quite stand up as drama here, there's plenty to admire in Cox-O'Connell's production, his debut as a director for Soulpepper.
His staging is thoroughly thought through, from Ken MacKenzie's inspired and surprising set and lighting design to Debashis Sinha's unsettling sound design. The shift from terrorist cell to prison cell is impressively done – and there are lots of wonderful images, from a shattered teacup to spinning lightbulbs. But Camus's play is better at telling us how political violence dehumanizes everyone it touches than at showing it.
The Just continues to March 26 (soulpepper.ca).