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Tyranny and resistance: Albert Camus’ 1948 drama ‘L’État de siège’ carries new relevance

The theater excited Albert Camus’ communal instincts as a writer, but the stage wasn’t the ideal medium for his brand of political existentialism.

“Caligula” is perhaps his most fully realized play, and he had some success with adaptations (notably of Faulkner and Dostoevsky). But the interest in his dramatic works is in no small measure a function of the standing he achieved elsewhere as an intellectual luminary.

“L’État de siège” (“The State of Siege”), presented by the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA at Royce Hall on Thursday and Friday, was a spectacular defeat for Camus when the play had its Paris premiere in 1948. This parable of resistance to a rising plague of authoritarianism was savaged by the French critics, who couldn’t help invidiously comparing the work to the author’s novel “The Plague.”

Camus put on a brave face. “Few plays have benefited from such a unanimous panning,” he remarked, “which is all the more regrettable because I still believe that ‘L’État de siège’ for all its faults may be the work I have written that resembles me most.”