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Oakland Tribune, March 20, 2005


Shotgun Players probe terrorism in Camus' 'The Just'

-- Chad Jones


IF THE NAME Albert Camus makes you think of anything, it's probably a term paper you had to write or a particularly thorny philosophy lecture you had to endure in college.

Forget any negative associations you might have and prepare for Camus' "The Just," a tense drama about terrorism from Berkeley's Shotgun Players.

There's a certain inevitability about this production that makes it seem exactly the right play at the right time.

Here's a little background: Two seasons ago, during the run of Shotgun's extraordinary "The Death of Meyerhold," an audience member named Tom Hoover was reminded of a 1905 uprising in Moscow that resulted in the assassination of Grand Duke Sergei, the uncle of the czar.

Hoover recalled that Camus, the Nobel Prize-winning journalist, novelist and philosopher, had written a play about that uprising but that the only English translation left something to be desired.

So Hoover did what anyone would do: He created his own translation and brought it to Shotgun artistic director Patrick Dooley, who wisely made it the first show of his 14th season.

Hoover's translation is vital and edgy with a kind of clarity that is welcome in any complex discussion   about how bombs and murder might or might not be justified.

Dooley directs a cast of actors unafraid to fully commit to the intensity Camus requires from his Russian revolutionaries, and that's absolutely key to the success of this highly successful show.

For much of the first act, members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party plot the Grand Duke's murder as a first step in overthrowing the tyranny they see overwhelming their country.

Boris (Cassidy Brown) is the pensive leader of the group, and he is aided by bomb expert Dora (Beth Donohue), romantic poet Yanek (Taylor Valentine), solid and reliable Alexis (Ryan O'Donnell) and volatile former convict Stepan (John Nahigian).

The first attempt to bomb the Grand Duke's carriage goes awry when the leader unexpectedly travels with his young niece and nephew. Much discussion follows about whether or not it's OK to kill children to serve a larger revolutionary purpose.

"Nothing is forbidden that could serve our cause," Stepan says. Yanek counters that killing children has no honor in it. Stepan answers that honor is a luxury for those who ride in carriages.

"No, honor is the last wealth left to the poor," Yanek says.

When the bomb finally does go off at the end of Act 1, it's a shattering moment.

Act 2 is less taut if only because the act is done and we're left to sift through the results.

Alf Pollard's excellent set morphs from a distinguished drawing room to a grimy prison cell where assassin Yanek receives an unsettling visit from the Grand Duke's widow (Michele Shoshani).

Issues of repentance and punishment arise in the form of a cool policeman (John Thomas) and a fellow prisoner who also serves as executioner (Eric Burns).

Throughout the play's entire two hours and 10 minutes, you never forget that variations on the discussions you're privy to here are likely going on somewhere in this turbulent world. We'll read about another car bomb going off in a crowded market place or at a mosque, and we'll think about what we've heard and seen in "The Just."

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