Home / Arts & Life / Review: In ‘State of Siege,’ Resistance to Plague in an Overcoat

Review: In ‘State of Siege,’ Resistance to Plague in an Overcoat


Valérie Dashwood in “State of Siege” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Ed Lefkowicz

The disease of extremism rampages through Albert Camus’s “State of Siege,” a deservedly minor 1948 play revived by the director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota of Théâtre de la Ville in Paris and presented by the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The energetic staging — in French with English supertitles — is a master class in how to make a bad play better. But not even Mr. Dermacy-Mota’s stylish interventions can make “State of Siege” anything more than a hollow allegory.

On a breezy summer night in Cadiz, Spain, a ballad plays and couples sway. Then a comet flames across the sky, heralding the arrival of the Plague (Serge Maggiani) and his slinky secretary (Valérie Dashwood), a grim reaper in lingerie. The Plague seizes power in the town, bullying the populace and curbing civil liberties. Truth is a casualty, so is love. Language suffers, too. Words like freedom — liberté if you don’t like looking at the supertitles — lose all meaning.

How do we understand this Plague, a man who stomps around the stage in a black overcoat? Is he a grave illness or a fascist bureaucrat? Which is worse?

“State of Siege,” which flopped at its Paris debut, can be read as a peculiar companion piece to Camus’s 1947 novel “The Plague,” about a pandemic that overtakes an Algerian town. Here the symbolism is starker, the characters more crudely sketched.


In the 1948 play by Albert Camus, the townspeople of Cadiz, Spain, are intimidated by the Plague and his secretary.

Ed Lefkowicz

It’s a political allegory, a form that has lately saturated New York theater. Like several other recent productions — “1984,” “Rhinoceros,” Shakespeare in the Park’s “Julius Caesar” — “State of Siege” sometimes misses the symbolic mark and sometimes hits it as squarely as a punch in the nose.

The play takes right-wing extremism as its broad target. Because it is mostly written as parable, Camus’s Spanish town could just as easily stand in for Poland or Hungary. But most of the Brooklyn Academy audience probably has Donald Trump’s America in mind.

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