Sunday, July 5, 2009

No Exit, Poison Apple Initiative at DOMY Books, June 19 - July 3

With a sort of purposeful negligence, I have long avoided some of the leading French writers of the twentieth century. Existentialism enjoyed a vogue both in literature and in philosophy when I was at university, but I didn't care for its dour aspects. Mine was a deliberately uninformed prejudice, the sort that is likely to perpetuate itself comfortably for a lifetime.

Less than a decade after that, we lived for two difficult years in Oran, Algeria, the scene of Camus' novel La Peste (The Plague). Abandoned by the French at Algeria's 1960 independence, Oran was a hollow, dirty ghost of its former snug glory, increasingly well suited to Camus' nihilistic 1947 novel and no inspiration to visit the grim literature of 1940s France.

So I was not familiar with Sartre's No Exit, other than for its famous tag line, "L'enfer, c'est les autres" -- usually translated without grace as "Hell is other people." Given Sartre's ideas and the context of the play, a better version might be something along the lines of "Hell's greatest torture is that of dealing with other individuals."

Bastion Carboni and his Poison Apple Initiative staged the play at DOMY books on east César Chávez Street. I was unexpectedly able to slip into one of the back rows for their final performance on July 3.

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