BEIRUT: The phone rings, and officer Jalal, who was abandoned by the Syrian regime prior to the war, picks it up only to be informed that he is wanted back, now that there is an uprising.
This is the opening of the play “Confession,” written by Wael Kaddour, and directed by Abdullah Al-Kafri. Not only is it one play, but rather, a play within a play, featuring the renowned “Death and the Maiden,” which was originally written by Argentinean playwright Ariel Dorfman, but, fictionally claimed to be written by Jalal’s nephew, Omar.
The play allows the audience to have a taste of the conscientious torment along with the traumatic experiences of Jalal, caused by the brutality he had both experienced and committed, along with Omar. The phone call he receives however, rejuvenates in the former security officer an old desire to regain the power he once had.
TRUTH, VICTIMS, AND FREEDOM
Abdullah Al-Kafri is a director and playwright from Syria. He is also the director of Ittigahat Company, which was once located in Syria and has been in Lebanon since 2013. One of his previous works is “The threshold of pain for Mrs. Ghada." He has also contributed to two works for Zoukak.
Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, Al-Kafri gives his own definition of the play.
He tells Annahar that the events of the play resemble those that were happening in Syria back in 2012; and while Omar was preparing for the last rehearsals of his play that is based on Dorfman’s “Death and the Maiden,” which focuses on truth, victims, and freedom, his uncle Jalal wanted him to leave the country.
As for the play within the play, the characters of the main production take on the roles of Dorfman’s play, creating a theatrical inception.
Another main character in “Death of the Maiden” is “Haia,” who is in a relationship with Omar. Haia however, does not think it appropriate for her to play the role of Paulina, due to her brother’s imprisonment in Syria, a circumstance that has a significant impact on her.
In Dorfman’s play, Pauline is a rebel in Chile. She was raped by her doctor 14 times in prison while listening to Chopard’s Death and the Maiden. When her abuser paid her a visit in her house with her husband, she wanted to sue him, after recognizing him from his voice.
With the lines between fact and fiction growing thinner, “Death and the Maiden” is actually based on a true story Dorfman had found in a newspaper. This is significant since it is almost what Al-Kafri does in his own play.
How Jalal reacts to the phone call and the sequence of events that will consequently take place are for the audience to experience on June 9 and 10, at the Sun Flower Theater in Tayouneh, Beirut.
In terms of the technicalities of the play, the script is worthy of discussion.
It mainly revolves around five characters conversing in a closed home in Syria. The one hour, and 40-minute play is like a conversational hubbub initiated by Jalal’s sudden phone call, and the possibility of Omar stealing money from Hamza.
Furthermore, English subtitles are available throughout the whole performance for non-Arabic speakers. This idea was first presented by the play’s team during the Red Zone Festival last month, taking into consideration the cosmopolitan and multi-lingual audience of Lebanon.
As they say, less is more; which is reflected in the simplicity of Confession’s art direction. It is mostly focused on space and emptiness, and how spaces are present at all times. In other words, the decoration is always moving on stage, and everyone is playing a role in life in this way. It’s all about constant motion.
The play, as the director puts it, was about acting vs. reality, and about analyzing the script of “Death and the Maiden” and manipulating its ending.
This is not the first time that art triumphs where reality fails, and Confession, being a script that delves deep into political tension with the aid of art, is a great example of that. It poses questions regarding social and political change, the meaning of art, and the importance of confessing. Not only is it political, but it is also raw, human, and thought-provoking.
THE HUMANISTIC ELEMENT
Jamal Salloum, an actor playing the role of Jalal in Confession, is also a cinema director and has directed two films so far.
“I created Jalal’s history,” he says.
Salloum graduated with a Theatrical Arts degree from Syria in 2004 and has been acting ever since. His latest film “Swing” was directed in 2018, and it will soon be screened in Metropolis Sofil cinema in Beirut.
Characters such as that of Jalal’s are so dear to Salloum’s heart, yet very tiring at the same time. People love his technique, but the exhaustion that follows the creation is something he deals with.
“I’m mostly into the theme of people who die for no reason,” he says. For him, the most important thing at all time, and especially at times of war, is the human being.
IDIOMS VARY, WAR REMAINS
Furthermore, 39-year-old Chadi Moukresh, a Syrian actor who has been living in Lebanon for four years, and acting for 22 years, is playing the role of Akram. He is a previous political prisoner, who was released after a general amnesty law.
Akram visits Omar’s house, and to his surprise, discovers the person who contributed to his imprisonment, is no one other than Jalal.
The young actor sees that the play is viable anywhere where there is war, since war is a humanitarian incident, and its effects seem alike everywhere.
“Idioms quite change during times of war, yet there are always beneficiaries and victims,” he says. According to him, those who make war become leaders and the ideology that has led to a brutal war somewhat outlives it.
Ideology seems to be the biggest winner in war, as Moukresh says.
Moukresh is currently preparing for another play “The Other Side of the Garden,” and he is working on his own project “My Imagination is Always Bigger”.
War has had a major impact on Moukresh’s journey as an actor, which led him to quit theater from 2008 until his most recent return in 2018.
To him, theater, is his most preferred outlet, existing as a cultural venue; unlike TV, which is for mere entertainment.
THE FACTS BEHIND THE FICTION
The characters in the play, such as Jalal, are not pure fictitious creations, but rather fictitious representations of real people, whose stories are often untold.
After 2006, the Syrian regime cut down a huge number of former security officers for their their acclaimed brutality. They were sent home, while still having privileges, such as a personal driver and a guard.
In 2012 however, the Syrian regime requested the return of those military officers, which is a case almost identical to Jalal's.
Art imitates life, after all.
Text by: Wael Kadour
Directed by: Abdullah Alkafri
Performed by: Hamza Hamadeh, Jamal Saloum, Oussama Halal, Suha Nader, Shadi Moqresh
Scenography: Karam Abu Ayash
Production Management: Marwa Chehadi
Original Music Composer: Abed Kobeissy
Artistic Collaboration: Eric Deniaud, Chrystele Khodr, Christine Youakim, Ariane Langlois
Visual Materials Design: Abraham Zeitoun – Be:Kult
Promotional Material: Amr Koukach
English Translation: Hassan Abdulrazzak
French Translation: Chrystele Khodr
Stage Manager: Hassan Akkol
Implementation of Model (Maquette): Fares Khalif
Set Executer: Abdul Qader Al Abdullah
Arab Fund for Arts and Culture – Culture Resource in cooperation with KKV - This performance was developed within an Artist residency at Hammana Artist House and with the support of Koon Studio
Tickets are available at Sunflower theatre: 20000 LBP, 15000 LBP For students
For reservation: 01381290
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