Issam Abou Khaled’s show in the “Theatre of Beirut”
Yousef Bazzi - 23/02/2004
From the mid-nineties, Beirut has been lacking a theatre life; for the shows that are characterized with seriousness and with the experimental capacity, during a decade of time, do not exceed ten. The pioneering theatre which spread in all the Arab world from the mid-sixties, has become a rarity today, with at most one show per year. The play “Maarch” by the young director Issam Abou Khaled, comes as if it were an insistence on theatrical action and emphasizes “Maarch” within this context, this comes together with the continuity of a new generation keen to keep the show alive and shining. The new show is the second one for Abou Khaled after “Al-Arkhabeel” (2002). It seems, from the two works, that he is trying to arrive at a theatrical formula which is related to the Lebanese Experimental Theatre, from the Proustian and the Checkovian on the one hand, to the technologies of the poor theatre from the other. Apart from protesting left-wing language which accompanies his theatrical language, he is also very connected to the experience of Roger Assaf which is affected by “Aryan Mankousheyn” (The Sun Theatre).
On “Maarch” which started showing on the 12th of February, here is a critical review:
In the brochure which was distributed to us before the show, the speech was to Roger Assaf, the word “Sun”, the company which produces and sponsors this theatrical work and works on the continuity of the place, that is the Beirut theatre (Ayn al Marsiyya). It is a speech about the theatre and war and the relationship between them from the time of the Greek Achilles.
Roger Assaf, the spiritual father to the young members of Beirut’s theatre, was smarter than to corner himself into antagonizing and condemning America or scorning her armies and politics. His speech had one objective and one can say that is wasn’t condemnation of the war only, but thinking about it as a theatrical theme, as an eternal subject for theatre.
Issam Abou Khaled, started his play immediately by insisting to clarify that he is dealing with the American army and their war in Iraq. He produced all the proofs and justifications available to convince the audience that he is dealing in his work with the Americans specifically in their war in Iraq, helped by television footage in which he was intensely involved in filming and in montage of individuals and persons of his theatre so that they appear in television as though they were a part of that army which is fighting a real and direct war. At the beginning of the theatre he produced a portrait of the soldiers, the heroes of his play, by describing them as a mass of fools and unreal bodies, mechanical, who moved like robots that are dumb, spiritless, mesmerized, and caricature figures, without will and brain-washed. This automatically refers us to an extended memory of the Arab personification through drawing or writing or acting of the Israeli soldiers who is stupid, fearful, mad and a coward..etc.
This started with the work of Issam Abou Khaled from the first theatre, and we said therefore, that this was a mean and demeaning work for the American soldiers, and that Issam Abou Kahled from the immediate handling of the drama did not want to leave any opportunity for doubt about the idiocy of those soldiers, supposing our preparedness to laugh and admire all that trivialized those soldiers. A political declaration with this intention has prevented the audience from any other interpretation of the objective of the play, as though the play was widespread in it’s idea , as though it were, as in the words of Roger Assaf, a condemnation of the war, of killing, of politics. Abou khaled made the production with one title: Condemning America, and ridiculing her army only. This weakness in the show will soon disappear. So for the purpose of expression it is necessary to write a script and to invent a language and a saying, and here in the theatre neither the slogans nor the cheers nor the columns of the newspapers nor the declarations, work; there was the need to invent a theatrical script. But how to do that without falling into chattering, indirect language, and cheap talk? Here Issam Abou Khaled resorted to a solution in which he did not exceed his limits, by focusing not only on the subject of the theatre and it’s poetry only, but he also exceeded our expectations: He has abolished language itself and changed it into verbal stuttering, shouts and incoherence.
This is the only possible script, it is the final saying which can invent a meaning. On this basis the theatre saved itself from the siege of prepared meanings, and the voice turned into the protagonist specifically for the play, and the human primitive voice became, what was before language, and the same for music: they are the crux of the work and the space but also the basic dramatic dimension, as long as acting disappeared and the mimicking performance dominated.
Issam Abou Khaled did not come out of the caricature context, but he entered the work in the theatrical condition, and charged it with the strength of his expression and personifications which led us to the joy of watching and listening. As for the musical variations which played the role of shooting or explosions expressed by the Awd instrument and drums, they appeared as a light scenes which creates comedy out of pain, of suffering and tears. This is when a work of art uses music to express a war phrase, such works reflects the uniqueness of the theatrical imagination and an introduction to beauty that renews and diversifies production solutions and expressive styles.
The show, basically a continuous military march from one war to another: fighting, death, fear, savagery, weakness, charging, murder and innocence, and thus as the play proceeds, we notice that we are no longer sure about the condition of those soldiers: who of them is alive and who of them is dead. They are in the dividing line between life and death, they are a fragmented mass, or as the films picture them as zombies as though they are in a dream, in the heart of fear without any hope, facing an enemy which soon becomes their image. Suddenly there appears the small video camera which is placed on the paraplegic carriage with many wheels, a carriage with an old seat that cannot be distinguished from that of the barber, the dentist, and the executioner, or the disabled…this video camera will play the role of mirrors and their reflections and will penetrate the four walls of the theatre. This camera on stage will pick up the footage of the mass of soldiers and will reflect them at the same time on the walls of the theatre in the background, being the film of the self and the enemy. Then it transforms the public into a film to be seen by the audience while the soldiers transform this audience into a new enemy. Chattering, stuttering, shouting, the camera, the mimicking performance, and the intermixing pictures as an acting element and as a mirror, as well as a magnifying lens, which transforms MAARCH to a play of uselessness, controlled by a production tendency, inclined towards the grotesque, in its most serious meaning.
Here, death is not a final destiny, but it becomes a play which describes cruelty, torture, and the hopeless human condition. Death is the theatre, the actor and the game of existence.
In a scene of “The Rainbow”, which brings together the female soldier and the dead male soldier in an emotional conversation of love, life, and emotional longing, sadness becomes the other side of praising life, to regain hope, and to regain the humanity of the dead. When the female soldier begins to treat the wound itself (a blood-soaked piece of cloth, deeply embedded within the body), and she draws a thread from another wound , as though she were drawing out death and pain from the intestines and the body and returning life to the dead body. All this is set in a green background, and a rainbow, then by burning the light fire in the thread between her and him, the play at this point reaches it’s climax and enters into its raving, when you feel the greatness of the show.
We can generously praise the customs and the accessories, we can also complement the abundance and intelligence of production solutions. We can ignore the political preface which condemns American and it’s wars. For in spite of the leftist trends of this play, it seems that this leftist trend, here at least, is a necessary renovating factor for art.
The stage was crazy. The war was music. The soldiers were a scream. Life was a camera. The audience was the film. Stuttering was in the script and clarity of performance.
The few errors can be ignored for the sake of Abou Khaled and his theatrical caste. Youssef Bazzi