PLAYS: THE STRANGEST
Midway through Albert Camus’s The Stranger, an Arab is killed. Leaping from this moment and working backwards through possible histories of tangled romance, ethnic conflict, and random violence, playwright Betty Shamieh has crafted a new play inspired by this unnamed character. Infused with elements of Middle Eastern oral storytelling traditions and set in French Algiers on the brink of revolution, The Strangest is an absurdist murder mystery about three Algerian brothers who vie for the love of the same woman. Their bitter rivalry ends with one brother being inexplicably gunned down by a French stranger.
The Strangest had its world premiere at the Fourth Street Theatre under the direction of May Adrales (co-production of The Semitic Root and Paradox Productions) in 2017.
Selected as one of the season’s “most promising live events” in the New York Times Spring Arts Preview “33 Ways to Get Up and Get Off the Couch”
“The murdered Algerian in Albert Camus’s “The Stranger” isn’t even worthy of a name. We know the killer is a Frenchman who goes by Meursault, but the victim is anonymous. Now “The Strangest,” by Betty Shamieh (“Roar,” “Fit for a Queen”), reframes the point of view once again: from a criminal Frenchman to an Algerian woman, from the colonizer to the colonized. Umm belongs to a storytelling family, and she attempts to join their traditionally male ranks by turning her drama into a suspenseful riddle. A mix of Arabic storytelling flourishes and Ionesco-like absurdum!”
-The New York Times
“The Strangest, suggested by the classic novel, turns the tale inside out, exploring the mysterious murder through the device of a traditional Arab storytelling café in which the audience is immersed.”
-New York Magazine
“A gigantic story, enveloping us with a whole universe of fascinating intrigue; it’s also like a seed which blossoms like a lotus flower in the desert, from which seeps the nectar of hope and perseverance of a nation at the cusp of revolution…The Strangest is ferociously funny. The story is an ode to any people resisting tyranny: they might be defenseless, but "to be defenseless is not the same thing as being defeated." Strength lies in the ability to remember and persist. ”
-Theater is Easy
“Shamieh structured The Strangest as a murder mystery where one of three brothers will be shot in the end. In the play, Abu, the father of the young man who is shot, was known as a powerful storyteller. Nevertheless, the most powerful voice is Umm, Abu’s wife. Reminiscent of commedia del arte…the play not only mitigates the colonial deletion of native voices in Camus’s novel, but also challenges the general silencing of women.