Reed College

Cultural Encounters in Uncertain Times: Algerian Actors Tour the United States

Video Screening and Discussion
Jane E. Goodman of Indiana University
Co-sponsored by the departments of anthropology and theatre

What are Algerians doing in theatre these days? How have they managed to survive an authoritarian regime for the last 35 years? What can their theatre tell us about the conundrums we face in our own society, where disenfranchisement and disappearance are becoming ever more present?

Please come to a video screening and discussion of the Algerian play Apples, as performed in English by the Algerian theatre troupe Istijmam. This gritty, intimate production, full of dark humor and barbed observation, bears witness to Algeria's shadowed past and confronts the complex destiny of the present day. The realities of living under Algeria’s authoritarian regime following the country’s failed transition to democracy eerily resonate with both the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the present situation in the United States.

The Istijmam troupe was selected by the Center Stage program of the US State Department to tour the US in the Fall of 2016. Dr. Jane Goodman, professor of cultural anthropology at Indiana University, accompanied the troupe on their tour and is now writing a book about it. She will be screening her video of the play and moderating the discussion. She plans to use aspects of the discussion in the book she is writing on the troupe’s US tour.

Playwright Abdelkader Alloula wrote Et’teffah (Apples) in 1992, in the aftermath of Algeria’s 1988 uprising, which toppled 30 years of single-party dictatorship but led to a decade of civil war that pitted Islamist insurgents against a military-backed regime. A secular democratic intellectual committed to political pluralism, Alloula was assassinated outside his home in Oran by Islamist terrorists in 1994.

Based in Oran, Algeria, ISTIJMAM is an experimental theater collective founded in 2007 as a theatrical laboratory to bring contemporary theatrical perspectives to bear on indigenous Algerian theatrical traditions. They are inspired by Algeria’s popular halqa (circle) form of populist street theater as well as the tradition of the goual (a storyteller engaged in barbed social commentary).

Synopsis: A man has just engaged in an agonizing search for apples to satisfy his pregnant wife’s cravings. Apples are an imported luxury product in Algeria, expensive and hard to find. In this case, a local vendor had managed to obtain a basket of choice aromatic apples but refused to sell, contending that their value was higher as a display item because they brought prestige to the neighborhood. The inability to purchase an apple that ‘The Customer’ could see and smell right in front of him is only one of a number of frustrating situations that he has recently encountered. The factory where he worked for years has vanished overnight without warning. When he went to the authorities to find out what happened, he joined throngs of others who had long been seeking justice that never comes. At wits’ end, the man stumbles into a public restroom, asking the proprietor, ‘The Attendant,’ for permission to let everything out. He wants to scream, jump around, and literally release his frustration and his rage at the system, which makes daily life all but impossible. Meanwhile, a third character – ’The Actor’– happens into the same public restroom. Marginalized by the state-run theatrical institution he was working for, he seeks a space to rehearse and realizes that the restroom fits the bill: clean, calm, and with great acoustics. The actor takes the stage as he recites passages from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In the end, the quest for freedom and democracy, catalyzed by apples, brings the characters together.

Monday, February 19 at 4:15pm to 6:15pm

Psychology, 105
3203 Southeast Woodstock Boulevard, Portland, Oregon 97202-8199

Event Type



Faculty & Staff, Students, Alumni, General Public


Anthropology, Theatre



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