Candide | Justin Wang
by: Justin Wang
The sound of scratching pencils, whirring machinery, and shouting actors fills the air of CCA, as tens – no, hundreds – of CCA students prepare for one of the most anticipated events of this first quarter: the performance of Candide’s operetta adaptation. First written by Voltaire in 1759, it stands as one of the oldest and most well-known satirical pieces of its time.
Candide is basically a collection of the greatest Onion articles of all time, condensed into one, extremely-hard-to-read and only slightly cohesive package. Fun! And yet, why? Why pick Candide, of all things? Filled to the brim with R-rated jokes and references so subtle they’re near impossible to recognize, and Candide doesn’t seem to be entirely conducive to any sort of performance, let alone one geared toward high schoolers. So the question remains. Why this play?
At first glance, even the story of Candide seems nonsensical. A young bastard nobleman named Candide (who has a huge crush on the Baron’s daughter Cunegonde), after “accidentally” kissing Cunegonde, is promptly drop-kicked out of the manor. Allegedly, this is due to the difference of 4 years of family lineage – specifically, 71 vs 72 quarterings between Cunegond and Candide. Either way, Candide’s eviction from his home sends him on a journey that takes him all over the world. Accompanied by Pangloss and Martin, two of Candide’s mentors and friends, the young bastard-child sees the world, and narrowly escapes death time and time again. Pangloss is the perpetual optimist, positive to the point of absurdity in which he smiles through a battlefield of dead soldiers. Martin, Candide’s other mentor, is the pessimist, unable to see the best in humans even when they gain riches beyond measure from a parody of El Dorado. However, something seems… off about the way Candide is written. Each threat seems more unpredictable than the last, more… weird. But each threat still carries an air of possibility, like if all the things happened wrong in just the right order, if somebody had just the worst luck imaginable. This feeling, masterfully crafted by Voltaire, is purposeful. When an old lady says she survived with “one-half of my posteriors”, or when Candide wades through a battle in which tens of thousands presumably died and Voltaire explains it all in the most deadpan, bland language available.
This is where the heart of Candide lies. As Natalie Feldman, a junior in the Envision Conservatory for the Humanities (ECH) and one of the head organizers of the play, says: “Candide is one of my favorite picaresque novels (or novellas I should say). Its ample social commentary is something I still find applicable in my daily life, and it’s really interesting to see such themes remain relevant in completely different times and contexts–Voltaire’s words really are timeless.” The true beauty of Candide is not its nonsensical story or bland language. It’s the satire that lies deep beneath the surface of the story. Each and every event in Candide that happens is a satire, targeted at the aspects of 18th century society that Voltaire found unsatisfactory. In the words of Jasmine Werry (another junior within ECH), Candide, at its heart, “is a critical denunciation of religion, full of political sedition and intellectual hostility”.
So, on October 25th and 26th, tune into a philosophical version of the Onion, set in the 18th century. Written by one of the greatest philosophers of his time, Candide combines both the past and the present to create something new, something timeless.
Also, there’s gonna be free food.