State of Siege (L’État de siège)

“Every time I hear a political speech or I read those of our leaders, I am horrified at having, for years, heard nothing which sounded human. It is always the same words telling the same lies. And the fact that men accept this, that the people’s anger has not destroyed these hollow clowns, strikes me as proof that men attribute no importance to the way they are governed; that they gamble – yes, gamble – with a whole part of their life and their so called ‘vital interests.” — Albert Camus

I wish I had the text of the play entitled State of Siege (L’État de siège) by Albert Camus in front of me. This is an absurdist play about citizens and their government sleepwalking through their lives until a rival government swoops in and starts stripping their freedoms. There are exact quotes I wish I could share with you: the one about lying being political; the one where The Plague (the head of the newly invading government) says something to the effect that their intent is to make the citizens be confused or misunderstand even though they all speak the same language; the one where either he or his Secretary (I can’t recall who) says that the perfect society is silent. I could not help thinking in terms of Twitter every time this absurdly (sadly) familiar regime spoke. I could not help but wonder what Camus would have thought about the term, “fake news.” Indeed, I could not help but think that Camus would be right at home with contemporary politics here in America, and that he would be entirely justified in saying, ” I told you so.” Let me tell you, time flew by last night at Brooklyn Academy of Music as I pretty much sat on the edge of my seat watching this play. Yes, there were some surprisingly overwrought romance-novel-sappy love scenes but those moments did add some heart and soul to the fear-mongering and constant loss of basic rights (like the right to even exist!) endured by the citizens in this almost uncannily prescient work of theater presented by Théâtre de la Ville, Paris. The director, Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, directed Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco in 2012 at BAM — a performance I was thrilled to have seen. Both Rhinoceros and State of Siege made use of minimal but incredibly effective staging, and both plays had a timeless quality as well. At the end of State of Siege, one person overcomes his fear of the regime and revolts. That act alone is enough to jam the machine. What a powerful message. It not only resonated in 1948 when Camus wrote this rarely performed piece, but it holds true now. Be fearless. Resist. Revolt.

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