THEATRE REVIEW: THE JUST (1949)
Written by Albert Camus
A Soulpepper Production
We’re always the heroes of our own stories. By our codes of honour–sacred or secular–our actions can be justified. Or, at least until we start looking at things from the other side.
In Soulpepper’s riveting production of Albert Camus’ The Just, we’re presented with many scattered perspectives, from the fragmented intentions of the play’s terrorist cell to our own splintering sympathies for them. Subtle or explosive, each new shift in the story asks us to consider order in an orderless world. If justice–and love–is relative, how do we decide what it’s relative to?
The Just premiered in 1949, written in response to the Nazi occupation of France but told through the lens of the Russian Revolution. Five members of a fringe organization come together to carry out the assassination of Russian Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich. This revolutionary act means something different to each participant–revenge, freedom, solidarity–but once the deed has been done, it’s as if a glass has shattered. Points of view fragment into pieces that make prior convictions seem impossibly naïve.
The cast is uniformly strong with a palpable chemistry that constantly surprises. Diego Matamoros is especially captivating as the group’s patriarch, Boris. His ability to see from all angles makes him a diplomatic leader, but it comes with a price–he knows the world will always be in revolution. Matamoros gives us a man from whom both life and death and joy and despair are indistinguishable but distinct, like two sides of a slowly spinning coin. It’s incredible to watch.
Superb onstage work is matched by an ace creative team. Director Frank Cox-O’Connell elicits impressive contrast and keeps tensions high without compromising the play’s slow and steady rise. Debashis Sinha’s sound design is evocative and visceral, and pulls us into Ken MacKenzie’s impressively versatile set.
If you’re familiar with Camus, you know The Just doesn’t give answers. Instead, we’re left with questions: can the fight for peace be justified? What separates the heroes from the villains? And, who gets to tell the story? If you don’t know, you’re not alone: a look across the production’s corridor stage will reveal rows of faces struggling with the same questions. It’s oddly comforting to see that, no matter where we’re sitting, nothing is simple.