Flippant and subversive Jeha on stage at LAU
June 2, 2006—
With his distinctive popular and frivolous character, Jeha was on stage at LAU in a spring major production directed by Lina Abyad.
The play taps into a variety of Jeha’s folk tales and the different adventures he encounters. A collection of folk tales is thus turned into a dramatic plot featuring Jeha treating serious matters with deliberately inappropriate humor.
“I started from several books for Jean Louis Maunoury, Inea Bushnaq, Leonardo Sciascia, Jihad Darwish, Jean Dejeux and Idries Shah. I chose a number of tales from among hundreds and narrowed them down to 40,” the director said.
The play’s team later looked for a framework through which those varied tales can hold a logical and credible identity.
“We worked in commedia dell’arte style considering each tale of Jeha a synopsis which the actors built on through improvisations,” Abyad revealed.
The play depicts scenes from the life of Jeha with three ever-existing characters: his wife Jamila (beautiful), Tatarian invader Timur Lenk and Jeha’s donkey.
The scenes are set in a space of Arabic-Islamic architecture with low lighting as if the city was lit by lanterns. Along with oriental costumes of North African and Middle Eastern character, all those elements jointly take spectators on a trip to the world of Jeha.
Although recounting familiar tales, the plot is well knit with short and quick dialogues conveying daily life details of this fictitious and contradictory character.
Jeha is both naive and wise, with a flippant character and rebellious spirit standing up to the Tatarian invader Timur Lenk and ridiculing his authority. The constant bickering and fighting between Jeha and his wife adds to the humor.
In scenes such as the Turkish bath, Jeha as a judge, the market and the popular café, Jeha poses questions, drags himself into weird situations yet manages to sneak out of the whole scene with remarkable wit. People around him not only believe all what he says but are also impressed by him and his ideas and constantly seek his advise even on personal and private matters.
It is true that the plot revolves around Jeha and his tales, but the different characters have their own distinct positions that complement his picture. Evidently, the character of Jeha does not upstage others no matter how trivial their role is.
Some actors and actresses play several roles in the play, while Jeha’s character is played by only one actor, 20-year-old student Mahmoud Jaban. Allowing actors to play various roles gave them the chance to experiment several times in a single performance.
Abyad recognizes efforts exerted by actors, who are still beginners. She admits to have faced difficulty in simultaneously directing a major production and teaching actors the basics of theater.
The play involved a team of about 30 student actors/actresses, dancers, and musicians as well as production and technical crews of students, administrators and professionals.
This spring’s major production featured seven performances held between May 12 and 21, 2006 on the Beirut Campus’ Gulbenkian amphitheater. Although intended for all audiences, the show sparked wide interest among children spectators.
The play pays tribute to three characters: Jeha himself and two Lebanese comedians that remind the director of Jeha’s character, Chouchou and Nabih Abul Hosn.
LAU’s bi-annual major productions are aimed at providing theater students with professional experience within the realm of the university. The production usually involves the Theater in Performance class and a number of other students and faculty members from the Arts and Communication Division, in addition to some graduates and professionals.
Photos courtesy of Sami Haddad
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