Revolution on stage

Idealism is never an end unto itself. The stories and characters in Albert Camus’ play The Rope prove that.

Idealism is never an end unto itself. The stories and characters in Albert Camus’ play The Rope prove that.

Spurred on by the great injustice and inequality of Tsarist Russia, the idealists in Camus’ work turn revolutionary and violent. They start an operation dubbed “The Terror,” and with their “Socialist Revolutionary Party,” they lead the assassination of Grand Duke Serge in 1905. Although the play is mostly a fictionalization of actual events, the characters are named after real-life revolutionary figures.

Camus, a famous French philosopher who wrote The Stranger, is the author of The Rope. In his lifetime, Camus was a left-wing journalist, editor of a Resistance newspaper during the Nazi occupation and later a professional writer.

In this play, most commonly known as Le Justes (The Just Ones), he explores the moral implications of violence, the brotherhood of humanity, the quest for justice, and even the religious and class tensions among members of a revolutionary movement. From nearly every perspective that you could imagine, Camus offers meditation on revolution. And as with real life, he leaves us with no simple answers.

A project of Portland State graduate student and play director Nico Izambard, The Rope features characters that have much in common with many PSU students. They are idealists wanting a perfect world, but living in a time and place that is decidedly imperfect.

Izambard did his own entirely new translation from the original French version for this production. He left out none of the play, but he did simplify some of the ideas and wording. This interpretation is very helpful, as the work is still very deep and philosophical, but more clear.

“French audiences love this kind of thing, but the American critics said that Camus’ plays were too philosophical for the stage, with the characters just serving as conduits for the author to express his philosophical ideas,” said Izambard.

Fortunately, between the new translation and the excellent acting work of PSU students, the characters really come to life in this adaptation. Jayne Stevens owns the main role of Dora, the sole woman of the revolutionary group and the most realistic thinker of them all. She imbues the philosophical dialogue with great feeling and at times, with a restrained passion toward her love interest. Rollie Walsh as Yanek (the aforementioned love interest) does a good job as the poet and reluctant bomb-thrower of the group.

Dennis Kelly does double work as the intellectual leader of the group and later, as the police chief charged with interrogating Yanek. He inhabits both roles superbly and approaches each one quite differently. David Havens also does double duty as another revolutionary and as an inmate who is the closest thing to comic relief in this very serious work. William Goblirsch pulls triple duty as the most cynical of the revolutionaries and as a jailkeeper, in addition to acting as the scene designer. Georgette Dashiell imbues her small appearance as the grieving and devout religious wife of the assassinated Duke with tremendous sympathy and pathos. All of this reminds me that PSU student actors are some of the best in town.

In The Rope, Camus shows quite eloquently how individual members of the ruling class are often friendly toward the lower classes and sometimes even resentful of a system that places them above others. He also explores the implications of killing to bring an end to violence, a quite contradictory idea.

With much talk bandied about these days on “revolution” and “regime change,” especially on campus, would-be revolutionaries would benefit from learning the lessons of this play. Fortunately, we’ve also learned from the actions of people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and most revolutionaries (at least in our country) take a non-violent approach to social change.

Camus admires these revolutionaries of The Rope because they were the last to give their lives in return for the lives they had taken. Fittingly, one of King’s biggest influences once said “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” As The Rope shows, the same is true for one’s enemies.

At just $5 a ticket, The Rope is an absolute steal, and you don’t have to go far. It’s at the Studio Theater in Lincoln Hall (Room 115) this Thursday to Saturday (Oct. 3 to 5) at 7:30 p.m. This is probably the only chance you’ll get to see this brand-new translation, so go see it while you can, and support your fellow PSU students.