Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Photo-romance

Posted by worriedlebanese on 28/04/2010

I knew nothing of the play before stepping into the theatre. All I had was some fond memories of some of Rabieh Mroué’s and Lina Saneh’s earlier works. I expected to find something both interesting and exasperating: Interesting because of the work, talent and intelligence the couple invest in their works; exasperating because of their political militant stands, that of the self described Lebanese left with its contradictions and complacency.  What I found was an enthralling contemporary play both in subject matter and in form. It combines 3 elements: photography (projected as an outdated photo-story), acting and music (played by Charbel Habr), masterfully interacting with each other. Instead of one story, one finds three distinct ones: that of a playwright and a lawyer going through a script to see if the copyrights are respected, that of the italian story that the script is based on (Ettore Scola’s “Una Giornata Particolare”), and that of the Lebanese adaptation of the play (presented as a photo-story).

The play met some critical success in the Avignon Festival in 2009. It just came back from Paris where it was performed in French. It was presented to a Lebanese audience for the first time this week. Judging from the applause it got at the end of the performance, I think it was quite appreciated by the usual mix of artsy crowd and socialites.

Some critics have described it as a political play, scrutinising each and every one of its political references. I personally don’t believe that this dimension is particularly significant. Sure one finds many references to contemporary Lebanese politics (the massive demonstrations, Hezbollah…), but they are dealt with humorously and only one of their feature is really taken into account, the eclipse of the individual and the rise of masses as the only significant civic actors. One critic went back to Ettore Scola’s film and saw in the play a criticism of fascism. But fascism is all about unity. What defines Lebanese politics is its fragmentation and its recurrent bipolarity. Sure there is the mass phenomenon and the cult of “virile” leaders… but with the absence of unity, and the necessary absence of diversity and a fragmented and shared public space, one cannot push the comparison too far.

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