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Review: ‘Et’effeh (Apples)’

In the play “Et’effeh” (literally translated to mean ‘apples’), in search of apples and his lost job, but finding only political corruption and social stratification, a poor man vents his frustrations to an unwilling public restroom attendant. Comically, in the play, he has lost his job with the idea that it has disappeared (that he has misplaced it), symbolizing less comical unemployment frustrations for working classes in the country. The attendant, serving as the comic relief throughout the show, at first tries to get this man to leave, but eventually empathizes with him. An actor comes in to rehearse lines from Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” extolling the love of country despite the dislike or hate of its government, which fits with the themes discussed earlier in the play.
This beautiful piece performed by the Algerian theater group Istijmam on Saturday night was written nearly 24 years ago about the changed culture and struggles with poverty in Algeria four years after their 1988 revolution.
First performed in Northern Africa, the play has been performed by this group for several years now. During the talk back at the end of the play, considered a normal practice in Algeria, the actors said that they hope to bring this play as far as they can, to spread its messages about culture and history, as well as their own artistic performance of it.
Not only does the piece cover the dramatic and comical story of the main character, but through his story introduces interesting facts about that period of Algerian history, such as the difficulty of importing fruit and government complications of the period. In fact, one of the many messages in the play is that Algeria seemed lost in its problems, as people felt powerless in the institutions they belonged to, yet indeed the institutions themselves were powerless.
The interpretive dance style-movement and moving uses of poetry and music throughout the piece inspired compassion in the audience for the plight of the main character.
One of the most powerful lines of the play was, approximately, “Only the rich can buy and corrupt democracy.” This gives a very strong idea of the social stratification present in Algeria at the time the play was written.
Another part of the story is when the third man, the actor, describes a play he’d like to write/perform about a schizophrenic. This man has one side of him that is good and another that is evil. He is always at war with himself and at the end, the good character has lost his way in confusion, while the evil character has changed only in attire. The two lean against each other and discuss the weaknesses of society, such as how “politicians steal from thieves,” while angels fight with daggers above them, letting their blood fall like rain on the two characters. This is probably meant to symbolize the confusion and corruption of Algerian politics after the 1988 revolution.
Pieces of the play, such as some of the music and poetry and a lot of the curse words, or what seemed to be such, were spoken or sung in Algerian Arabic, the original language of the piece. The mix with English was compelling.
The setting of the play within a public restroom, while not known for certain, was speculated to be due to the freedom of the space, and the mixture of it being a public building but a private space. This enables the main character, the attendant and the actor to mourn the changes that have come to their country in their individual ways.

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