An existentialist exercise | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 07, 2014 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:53 AM, March 08, 2015

An existentialist exercise

An existentialist exercise

Dhaka Theatre interprets Camus' “Outsider”

Photo: Ridwan Adid Rupon
Photo: Ridwan Adid Rupon

French philosopher, journalist and writer Albert Camus lived to be only 46, but in that short lifespan, he wrote some masterpieces without which modern literature would be incomplete. Perhaps the most noted of them is “The Outsider” (or “The Stranger”; French: “L'Étranger”), an almost-monologous first person narrative of a young man -- rich with elements of absurdism and existential nihilism. It has been adapted in many countries as a play, and Dhaka Theatre -- one of the most reputed theatre troupes of the country -- adapted their own version of the classic -- their 39th production -- as a tribute to the writers' birth centenary (2013). Rubaiyat Ahmed adapted the play, adding a small script of his own at the end of the original story, while it was directed by Nasiruddin Yousuff. The play premiered at the National Theatre Hall of the Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy on Saturday.

The play begins with Mersault, an Algerian young man, arriving at an old home following the news of his mother's death there. As he spends the night by the coffin and completes the last rites, he is divided within himself, by his indifference to the event conflicting to how he should be feeling. His life gets back to absolute normalcy almost immediately after his return, as he engages himself in romantic activities with a former colleague, Marie. His interactions with his two neighbours, Salamano and Raymond also portray his philosophies of life. Raymond seeks Mersault's help in getting revenge against some Arab's who he has engaged in conflict after he beats up his mistress on suspicion of cheating. Getting involved in helping Raymond, Mersault is attacked by two Arabs on the beach, and kills one of them. He faces trial, where he does not care to appoint a lawyer so the state appoints a counsel for him. His indifference to the murder is portrayed against him in court, as is his reaction following his mother's death, and he is given death sentence. Even then is not shaken, in belief or in responsiveness.
The second part, titled “Kobi” was written in 2007-08 by Rubaiyat -- when the army was in charge of the country -- attempts to connect to the essence of “Outsider”; it shows of a strange land where the strange and absurd is the norm, and anyone trying to stand against the establishment is misrepresented by it. The 'kobi' (poetess) who is the protagonist in this part, however, manages to somewhat reach out to the people, but not enough to cause an overturn.
Nasiruddin Yousuff's direction of the entire play was solid, and his minimalistic design and creative use of props and the set was brilliant. The background music ranged from Beethoven, Mozart to today's Yanni while works of master European artists Matisse, Gaugain and Van Gogh were projected on the set to bring the quintessential European flavour. Rafiqul Islam as Mersault would get full marks for his efforts in portraying a nuanced, complicated character, although he falls short on a few grounds. The other characters, in terms of acting, did reasonably well, maybe with a slight exception of Jayashree Mazumdar as Marie, who got monotonous at a point. The second part of the play actually saved the production quite a bit, with interesting choreography and use of costume, excellent narration and Esha Yousuff's strong portrayal of the 'kobi'.
Shimul Yousuf, apart from being in charge of the music and being the assistant director, did a good job with the costumes. Wasim Ahmed's light design was also compact, no-nonsense work.

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