Trap Door Theatre re-examines Camus’ ‘Regarding the Just’
Trap Door Theatre inhabits a tiny space wedged just behind Jane’s Restaurant on a leafy little street in the Bucktown neighborhood. But in its thinking and aesthetics, the company (now in its 20th season, with more than 70 productions to its credit, and with artistic director Beata Pilch as tireless as ever) is located in a very different place.
That “other place” could be Poland, Romania, Hungary, Germany, Serbia or France — all countries in which Trap Door has worked. But mostly it is the state of mind that is different — intensely expressionistic, political, sexual, intellectual, philosophical, absurd and often downright outrageous. “Myth, ritual and revolution” are the theater’s guiding buzzwords. Low budget but ultra-sophisticated is its guiding principle. And its actors might just possess the most heavily stamped passports in town.
The company’s newest production is “Regarding the Just,” translated by Pascal Collin and Nicholas Le Guevel from “Les Justes,” the play by Albert Camus. It is being directed by Valery Warnotte, whose 2011 staging of Pierre Nottes’s dysfunctonal family drama, “Me Too, I am Catherine Deneuve,” was a huge success in Chicago, received support from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and toured to Atlanta, Ga., and Washington, D.C., before embarking on a monthlong tour of France.
Camus, author of “The Stranger” and “The Plague,” was the Existentialist rock star of the mid 20th century. Born in then French colonial Algeria, he joined the French Resistance during World War II, received the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature, and died in a car crash in 1960, at the age of 46.
Written in 1949, (the newly named) “Regarding the Just” is based on the true story of the Russian Socialist revolutionaries who, in 1905, assassinated Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich, son of Emperor Alexander II. A member of the group, Ivan Kaliayev, hurled a nitroglycerin bomb directly into the Duke’s carriage. Camus used the story to explore the moral issues associated with murder and terrorism.
“I think Valery [Warnotte, the director] chose the play for us because he was inspired by our grungy, work-for-free style,” said Nicole Wiesner, the veteran Trap Door actress who plays Dora, Kaliayev’s former lover, who had trained in chemistry, served as the group’s bomb-maker, speaks fondly of her life before joining the Party, but ultimately pledges to avenge Kaliayev’s death.
Said Wiesner: “Camus asks: What is the difference between a revolutionary and a terrorist? What is justified and what is unjust? If you’re fighting for something you really believe in, are you still a terrorist?
“The first time Kaliayev [played by Antonio Brunetti] attempts to pull off the assassination, he cannot throw the bomb because he sees the carriage contains the Grand Duke’s young nephew and niece. A fellow revolutionary is disgusted by this, but the others in the group take Kaliayev’s side, saying that killing children would harm their cause.
“Our adapters have really worked to make the play more accessible to American actors and audiences. We tell the story and comment on it. At times we turn to the audience and say: ‘Do you see why we feel like this? Did we make the right choice?’ I think this also has freed us of the feeling that our French director might be commenting on us as Americans. And the characters are neither all good nor all bad. But the most important thing is that we want the play to feel as if it is unfolding now. Most of the Russian references have been excised, so instead of saying things like ‘Russia will be beautiful,” we say ‘the world will be beautiful’. And we dress in timeless, blue-collar clothes.”
NOTE: A special benefit performance of “Regarding the Just” will be held at 7 p.m. on June 7, with dinner at Jane’s Restaurant, and an after-party. Admission is $125.