Nelida Nassar 05.04.2014
Hayda Mish Film Masri “This is Not an Egyptian Film” is making waves among Lebanon’s theater goers and rightly so in view of the country’s recent domestic violence and murder incidents. It is a first and a unique look at the enduring problem of domestic abuse. Through testimonials compiled by the prolific director and playwright Lina Abyad from women of various countries: Lebanon, France, Pakistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, four narratives are presented. With a predilection for feminist subjects, Abyad thrives in the depiction of controversial subjects, act of disobedience and activism.
The important piece is tough, compelling about the knotty and tragic issue of violence. It also presents an urgent topic with stunning statistics: More than a third of all female murder victims are killed by a domestic partner. Thirty-five percent of all emergency room calls are attributed to domestic violence. In France, on average, a woman is murdered by her partner every two-day. In Pakistan 5000 women are killed by their spouse per year, in England one in four suffers domestic abuse. Alas, the statistics for Lebanon are undocumented due to the taboo still associated with the issue.
The play opens with a daunting leitmotiv scene where a male actor parades a gagged and chained woman punctuated by William Shakespeare Taming of the Shrewd verses. Roaming around the stage, the 21 actors in a nod to Robert Wilson’s choreographic style never meet each other gaze as if completely immersed in their inner pain or resentment. Touchingly performed by the female actresses Nazha Harab, Dima Matta, May Ogden Smith and Sima Ghaddar, they tell their stories of psychological harassment in detail, thus at times too similar and repetitive. The piece keeps mawkishness at bay through characteristic, local humor. It feels as it really attempts to dig deep into the complexities of the issue showing how difficult it is for a woman to simply leave her husband.
A vivid glimpse of the expected rage harbored by the four female victims, survivors, and their cries of desperation are conspicuously absent. Even if the males’ screaming false allegations of infidelity, degradation, threats of physical and verbal abuse outshines at times the victims’ stories, both abuser and abused performances remain unconvincing. What does not come across strongly in is the ache from physical and emotional coercion faced by the bereft women. The sixty minutes play as a whole needs a more spit and polish, as you do not come away with a sharp sense of what women had to endure during agonizing years of exploitation.
The stage setting of two distinct levels unravels: on the first plane a large dining table with perfectly organized shards of white broken porcelain is surrounded by flip sided chairs. Above, at an angle, an ensemble of wood strips suggests both prison bars and a slightly open stage curtain. It fences off a large television screen projecting the Egyptian movie watched by the actors. It also separates the higher platform from the dining area below. If the backdrop is architecturally and aesthetically alluring it fails to convey adequately the brutality and turbulence associated with domestic violence, while the film projection is obstructed to the audience and is very difficult to decipher.
The piece at times lacks the rhythmic or non-rhythmic articulation, theme and variation of a theatrical performance and remains more a work in progress. However, its powerful impact in lifting the taboo on the domestic abuse question is significant and noteworthy. A call on for activism, to help the abuse survivors, to create shelters, to find solutions to the great challenges in prosecuting the abuse cases and to agitate for legislative action become imminent. One would also hope for a series of government-funded educational videos for victims that would be made available in libraries, women’s shelters and online. The awareness raised by Abyad is real and the urgency requires immediate mobilization!
On stage at Lebanese American University’s Gulbenkian Theater.
May 1 to May 4, 2014