Jordan Theater Festival: Drama of the Arab Spring

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A dancer performs to the music of Mercan Dede at a concert titled "Secret Tribe" during the Jordan Festival at the Amman Citadel, on 30 August 2010. (Photo: Reuters - Muhammad Hamed)

By: Wael Qaddour

Published Thursday, November 29, 2012

At Jordan’s 19th Theater Festival, over a dozen Arab countries participated in a series of performances and symposiums that served to highlight the changes wrought on the cultural scene by the Arab uprisings. Jordan’s festival comes in the wake of the cancellation or indefinite postponement of similar theater programs like the Cairo Experimental Festival and the Damascus Theater Festival.

In terms of content, some performances waxed philosophical; Omani director Jalal Jawad’s treatment of English writer Mervyn Peake’s The Cave provoked much discussion.

The play featured six characters who represent different ideological perspectives on life, science, money, soul, and pleasure, holding lengthy discussions in a loose rhythm. Unfortunately, the performance reflected the theatrical inexperience of Jawad, who comes from a business management background.

Meanwhile, most of the plays dealt with current Arab realities. The political views and orientations varied, but they all supported the idea of a crushed Arab being, whose deep psychological damage is uncovered after enduring decades of one ideology and one voice.

Jordanian Mohammad al-Ibrahimi presented Until Further Notice, which revealed the internal cracks in the Arab citizen's memory. This was portrayed by splitting the theater in half and scattering the audience seats in an unconventional arrangement that ties into the play's essence.

Waiting, by Jordanian director Mohammad al-Dmour, rejected ready-made solutions and addressed current events by warning against exchanging accusations of being an infidel (takfeer).

Jordanian Mohammad Kheir al-Rifai directed The Dictator by the late Issam Mahfouz, which exposes a general's exploitation of a popular movement to eliminate his critics. The play ends with the arrest of the entire population.

Egypt and Yemen separately presented Handhala's Journey from Ignorance to Awakening by the late Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous. In the Egyptian version, directed by Islam Imam, Handhala recognizes the reasons of his misfortunes and achieves his revolution, but he is quickly neutralized by former regime remnants, in a sign of the continuation of the same mentality in managing the country. The director used song and dance and put the events in a performance led by two clowns playing the role of Harfoush. Its comical exaggeration, however, overshadowed some aspects of Wannous' text.

The Yemeni version, directed by Mabkhout al-Nuwaira, appeared to be closer to Wannous' vision. On his choice of Handhala, Al-Nuwaira told Al-Akhbar that Handhala's journey "is filled with suffering endured by the Arab citizen under authoritarian regimes, which only see the citizen as a piece in a machine that works without speaking. What is happening today in our Arab world is a translation to awaken Handhala and break the barrier of fear."

Meanwhile, the audience mostly agreed that the standard of performances was generally "below average." Jordanian director Nabil al-Khatib, member of the festival's cultural committee, said that the festival this year "regressed to disappointment, in addition to the absence of foreign plays, which removed the international feature of the festival."

Khatib suggested that the presentations lacked new vision and artistic techniques, but like many other viewers, he excluded the Tunisian performance Talk Remains, which at least "offered sophisticated technique for the actors in the scientific and theatrical sense."

Critics said that the festival's theater presentations again raised artistic questions related to modern Arab theater, but confirmed the incredible energy of the Arab theater cadres in continuity and experimentation.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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