Assaf and Hajj Ali announce the victory of love and art over old age and death
A play by Ali Shahrour about the ruin of cities and the regression of bodies
Sunday – 27 Shaaban 1444 AH – March 19, 2023 AD Issue number [
A scene from the play (presentation service)
When my friend Abdo Wazen called me a few days ago, inviting me to attend the play “If He Loves” by Ali Shahrour, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation. Because my names are Roger Assaf and Hanan Al-Haj Ali, who have attractiveness and a strong presence, which aroused in me the desire to discover what this duo can yet offer, in light of the city’s collapse and its growing emptiness. Although I had not seen any of the previous works of Blackbird, what I read about him aroused a similar curiosity in me, to ascertain whether the young director was able to provide his veteran heroes with the reasons for the vitality and renewal necessary to discover areas within them that they had not yet discovered, and to present these areas openly and without masks to the public. . I admit, however, that the feeling I had on the way to the theatre-hall was closer to apprehension and pity than to confidence in the ability of this adventurous trio to breathe life into the body of the city and art alike.
The features of the road leading to the heart of “Al-Hamra” Street were quite sufficient to place the passerby in the image of the miserable reality of one of the places most connected to Beirut’s pink times, and an embodiment of its cultural pluralism and enlightening role. Waste piled in containers, or spilling out without being picked up, provides a suitable environment for mice, rats, and other insects and small stray animals. The scarce electricity from the generators barely enables the few pedestrians to see their footstools on the sidewalks. As beggars, miserable sellers, and waste diggers make up a significant percentage of those on the street, the passer-by feels that the city he lives in is no longer connected to the city that once embraced the dreams of its many residents and visitors, and was the laboratory of knowledge, the kiss of hope and the space of freedom. Now, he cannot help himself, as he feels the fear of being robbed or harmed, suddenly attacking him.
And in the distance leading to the “City Theater”, I said to myself that the name itself is no longer correct, as long as the genitive to it has been emptied of its meaning, and it has become similar to a wide cement ruin of what it was in the past, then I remembered what Ziad Al-Rahbani had reached in his influential play. Something Failed” in the eighties of the last century, although we cannot create a theater for the city, in light of the latter’s fragmentation, its disintegration, and its total collapse, but these concerns quickly began to recede from the first moment of the start of the show. There was no well-defined decor, or internal walls that isolate the time and place of work from the time and place of the city, or curtains to separate the acting stage and the seats of the audience. A natural extension of the city’s outer darkness and its extreme reality, however, the austerity of decoration and scenography, the absence of formal aesthetic decoration, and the almost complete occlusion of darkness, were not insignificant matters, but rather were the most effective means that allowed the bodies of Roger Assaf and Hanan Hajj Ali, who met each other, to restore together, with all that was given to them. From the accumulation of experiences and the power of suggestion, the narration of the bereaved city on the one hand, and the narration of the agitated body on the other hand.
Ali Shahrour, taking advantage of his previous work on body movements and interrogating its various expressions, was able to urge both Hanan and Roger to unleash what they had saved for a moment like this, from the burning questions, from the vitality deep in the depths, and from the cries of suppressed protest against the systematic killing of the city and its remaining people . And by restoring the couple’s artists to different stages of their long emotional relationship, they were able together to make everyone in the hall completely nailed to their every sigh, every move they made, and all the signs of grief or distress that shrouded their faces, the festive joy of love or the affliction of its pain. And his torments. Although the relative disparity in age between the two parties, who had previously flouted all the religious and social taboos separating them, was clearly reflected in Hanan’s flexible body that retains much of its flexibility, and Assaf’s body that most expresses the weight of the years; They knew how to reduce the gap of time and its effects, with their brilliant acting performance on the one hand, and the power and feasibility of love on the other hand.
The exhausted couple was fully aware that there was not much they could do to lift the city that corrupt politicians and those holding its reins had brought to its tragic end and its abject bottom, but that did not lead them, with the young director and the work team, to the loss of faith in the feasibility of art, which if not One of his missions is to provide solutions and healing answers, as he is able to supply thirsty souls with a dose of hope, and prevent darkness from completely settling in. Together, they bet on the remaining treasures in the depth of their souls, and found in the love that unites them with its bond, the last rock that protects them from drowning.
In this half-silent, half-gestural elegy for the city’s current reality, the various movements, stillnesses, and dances acquire a ritual dimension, and turn into incantations and incantations in the face of old age, as well as in the face of the widespread emptiness. This ritual dimension of the work applies to the theatrical time, which makes the city’s dusk its space and its space, where Beirut’s night gathers all its darkness in order to prevent its expected dawn from coming, or to delay its onset as much as possible. As for the two heroes who accompany the fall of the city with the fall of their varying ages in its yellowness, they try to save what can be saved, relying on what the memory extracts from the moments of overwhelming joy, or betting on what has not yet been exhausted from the energy of the body, the spark of the soul, and the scattering of dreams.
However, all this would not have been achieved without the music of Abd Qubaisi, with its amazing beats that keep pace with the movement of the body that varies between the funeral rhythm, as in the scene of the dying body, and the slow movement of the middle age, as in the “Zorba” dance, and the graceful acceleration of the rhythm in the retrospective wedding scene. The same applies to the lighting design, by which the Frenchman, Guillaume Tesson, knew how to establish the boundaries separating places, times, and the changing conditions of the city’s reality and the souls of its inhabitants. And where things and beings lack solidity, and where presence has a taste of absence, and certainty mixes with its opposite, the whole show was like a silent text, in which movements, stillnesses, and facial features take the place of the spoken alphabet.
And if a final word had to be said in this regard, it is that the play “If He Falls,” whose unique brilliance was shared by Ali Shahrour, Roger Assaf, Hanan Hajj Ali, and others, seemed like a symbolic victory for the city’s spirit, which is pierced at its core, and for the ability of love and art to provide The boats needed to survive, after everything leads to an inevitable sinking.