Revolutionary ideas of terrorism and humanism take the stage as Avant Bard presents Les Justes (The Just Ones), a play written by Albert Camus, translated and adapted by Rahaleh Nassri. With direction by Jay Hardee – the show takes audiences on a dramatic journey – filled with high stakes and dire moments – as the story of a small group of revolutionaries attempt and plot to carry out an assassination in the name of terror and justice, believing that only one can help bring forth the other.
The show is intense and the cast is filled with powerful performances. From the moment the show opens the stakes are incredibly high, the consequences of interactions and words exchanged are played with life or death need. And the show continues at this level for the duration of the production. And while the show is played at the height of emotional and physical responses – it plateaus on a plane of high energy having climbed from nowhere and having nowhere to drop to. But when there are scenes and moments that are bursting with excitement, high energy, extreme tension, and dire circumstances, Les Justes is thrilling and compelling.
The costumes, designed by Jen Bevan, helped create secretive characters among the ranks of the revolutionaries but sent mixed messages in regards to time and setting. The suits, while sharply pressed and pinstriped with matching fedoras and brightly shined flat black shoes, seemed more reminiscent of the 1930’s American Gangster concept rather than the actual setting of the play. And although the time and location are never mentioned, the play, indicated by character names, dialogue and textual references, takes place in Russia just after the turn of the century. While they helped distinguish the many proud revolutionary men from one another it created a distance between the characters and their setting. The setting itself is beautifully crafted, designed by David C. Ghatan. The large white silhouette carvings that frame the stage are intriguing but in this case adds an overdose of symbolism to the play. When the text and the actor’s actions clearly show that the world is closing in on them – the large silhouette carvings of revolutionary images also close in around the stage.
The actors create distinctive characters who at the same time are so similar to each other – because of their shared love for the goals of the revolution. They do make fantastic use of the space, pacing around it, crossing through it, utilizing the ‘in-the-round’ concept to their advantage to create a sense of urgency in the show. The most combustive moments happen when the characters are given moments of drawn out monologues to express their own individuality to the cause – their personal feelings, their insecurities, and their problems.
The most powerful of these long emotional monologues comes from Voinov (Theo Hadjimichael) when he breaks down before Annenkov (Frank Britton). The scene leaves Hadjimichael raw and emotionally naked – standing before the eyes of judgment as he confesses his cowardice. In that moment he is so absorbed in his personal expression – his body trembling, sweating nervously, frantically pacing and spinning in tiny circles; that the words almost become unimportant, everything that needs to be expressed coming across his face, his body, and even just the sound of his voice without needing the articulation to understand that he is frightened and ashamed. A remarkable moment of individualistic expression.
Yanek (James T. Majewski) has a similar moment, with his bleeding heart sorrow as he confesses to why he failed the mission. Majewski stays at a heightened state throughout the show, and manages to make it different and exciting every step of the way. He never draws back in his energy levels and rarely in his vocal levels – and he is captivating as he spins in his own nervous convictions around the stage, erupting with passionate moments when played opposite of Dora (Nora Achrati) and Stepan (John Stange). The most passionate moment fires up between Majewski and Stange when they are at vocal odds over who is more committed to the revolutionary cause and why. Majewski is roiling with his justification and Stange forces harsh words right back at him, a verbal fight that nearly ends in physical blows – not to be missed!
The show itself provides echoes of mania and depression. There are frantic moments where characters are rushing about the stage, with spastic gestures and heightened senses of alertness. Skuratov (Graham Pilato) falls in the middle of these two extremes, arriving late in the show to diffuse the tension of Yanek’s (Majewski) tortured soul in prison. Moments like these are blown apart by the depressing lows of the play where the characters, still playing at heightened levels, shift their mania to despair and hopelessness.
Les Justes is a great series of emotional moments that holds the attention of the audience, and is filled with raw emotion.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.