Nelida Nassar 05.27.2014
A Woman Alone is an anguished, unsparing 50-minute play rarely seen on the world professional theatre stages. Its revival by Kholoud Nasser at the tiny but intimate Monnot theatre is a fine chance to examine an unbridled performance, a ribald monologue about sexual and socio-political commitments.
The play opens with a vernacular tune Ahl el Hawa from the beloved Oum Kalthoum purposefully blasting out and deafening the spectator. The inviting sparse décor of a black wooden chair where Maria (Kholoud) sits, a side-table with an old-style black telephone and a wall with a hanging riffle is ubiquitously minimalistic. Her gaze fixes her lap where a tray full of lentils rests that she cleans and sorts obsessively. Maria (Kholoud) realizes how loud the music is, she lowers the volume and switches it to a different tune before silencing it completely. An abrupt, heavy pause hints at what is to come.
Maria (Kholoud) starts chatting with her neighbor through an imaginary window and her life slowly unravels in front of us. She’s a housewife held prisoner in her own home, driven to madness by her abusive relationship with a possessive husband, a pervert telephone stalker, a voyeur neighbor, a brother in law – head to foot in a plaster cast able to move only one groping hand – an infant child to look after and the drudgery of household chores. A desperate young lover, complicit of his own mother, is also pursuing her. Would this passionate affair let her escape her overwhelming housewife condition? The actress embodies the play’s ten different roles, alternating masterfully from one to the other. But, for how long can this go on as each character is vying for her undivided attention? The inevitable occurs, she is driven to desperate deeds.
Kholoud manages to capture the intense paranoia, the tragedy and the pain lying beneath her difficult life. It is terrible to see her standing literally alone, with no one to help her. All characters are eerily absent, even the woman across the window – we never see them never hear them, at times it feels as though they may be a figment of Maria (Kholoud)’s increasingly disturbed mind.
The play is a testament of the close and seamless collaboration and partnership of husband and wife, Italy’s two best-known performers, playwrights, and political activists Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame who passed away last year. They wrote this monologue together in the seventies. The text is skillfully translated by D. Rania Kassem and adapted by Kholoud to the colloquial Lebanese dialect.
The piece is a bleak yet satisfying study that speaks for the plight of many faceless women, stuck in lives that revolve around patriarchal control and domestic duty, both marital and maternal. It is also a tribute to women who are able to multi-task. Kholoud deserves great credit: alone, she captivates attention, mainly through her charismatic character that is expressed through open and widely expressive features that are particularly effective in the high-energy sequences. The play is black comedy and her extreme let-ups in histrionics are of dramatic subtlety.
A Woman Alone is not so much a play as it is Kholoud’s engagement with the audience, combining direct address to the public with performance art in a 20-century spin on Italian theatre adapted to a vernacular one. She casts spells of emotions that elicit tears, laughter or thoughtful indignation. While, Chadi Al Haber infuses its own magical choreography with great balance, exquisite taste and retrain. The two producers Khouloud and Chadi’s collaboration echo the two unique playwrights Fo and Rame’s complicity. An exceptional performance, a must see.
Text: Dario Fo and Franca Rame
Dramaturgy and Acting: Kholoud Nasser
Director: Chadi Al Haber
Production: Chadi Al Haber and Kholoud Nasser
Translation: D. Rania Kassem
Lighting Designer: Hagop Der-Ghougassian
Light Operator: Chadi Al Haber
Sound Designer: Elie Abu Mrad
Sound Operator: Walid Jaber
Photography: Chris Ghafary
Monnot Theatre, Achrafieh 7.00 pm until June 30, 2014