REVIEW: L’Estranger (L’Étranger – The Stranger) by Albert Camus, dir. Carles Alfaro

A surprisingly effective dramatization of Albert Camus‘ unsettling little novel L’Étranger (1942) (The Stranger in English, L’Estranger in Catalan) puts existential angst back on the table. Adapted by Rodolf Sirera and Carles Alfaro, who directed the play at the Gràcia Lliure theatre in Barcelona, L’Estranger is staged with perfect simplicity. The setting throughout the single-act performance is the prison cell from which our (anti)hero Meursault might or might not be narrating events: one of the many dramatic decisions the director had to make with the play was how to deal with the dislocation of time in the novel, with the exception of the *critical* murder on the beach, (immortalised in an irritating song by The Cure), we are never quite sure where the ‘present’ is.

Ferran Carvajal and Francesc Orella in L'Estranger, a Catalan play adaptation of Camus' novelFerran Carvajal and Francesc Orellashare credit for bringing the enigmatic Meursault to stage-life, with Orella switching roles to play other parts in the book. They evoke the same weirdly dispassionate first-person/third-person voice of Meursault, who starts by relating the death of his mum, “today. Or, maybe, yesterday”, and ends with the “benign indifference of the universe”. This approach approximates the intimate relationship that Mersault has with the reader … (or is it that he is simply relating the same story, as if we were members of the jury?) … and the empathy it evokes, although neither we nor he can forgive his crimes. Even strangerMeursault’s guilt is made sonorous by an enigmatic pause between the first murderous shot … and the subsequent four that follow it into the corpse.

Why LIKE him?

Meursault takes us entirely into his confidence. His matter of fact approach is as rebellious in its honesty as it seems submissive to arbitrary, external forces: the sun, the heat, the nice cold water. He reacts only and immediately to concrete stuff and tosses aside anything ‘abstract’, from ambition to religion to ephemeral love. He’s a practical man, in short! And heavens, do we need those. And yet, as director, Alfaro, points out, Camus’ novelette has a paradox at its heart, for the true ‘heroism’ of the character lies in his utter faith in himself and in his own truth, and who gives a toss about society and its rules. While he desires isolation he yearns also for the attention it brings; while he basks in the benign indifference of the universe, he wants people to leer and gob at him.

Why UNLIKE him?

We can envy him his ardent individualism but can we honestly admire the monsieur? In the end the individual must play a role in society yield to its majority rules in spite of our own personal ‘truths’, if only to uphold the inkling of an ideal that a greater good does exist. Otherwise, what? In a world of push and shove, no one’s ever going to get on that bus.

L'Estranger a Catalan play adaptation of Camus' novel