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UTOPIA: Major Theater Production reflects the state of our world today

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The beauty of humanity in unity.

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The red scaffolding decorating the stage.

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UTOPIA actors under the "night sky" of the Gulbenkian stage.

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Representing rebirth, the characters try to peel off the "dead flesh" and expose the new to the light of dawn.

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February 23, 2009—

To demonstrate the growing discontent of people and the fading of humanity due to increasing selfishness and craving for material gain, LAU’s Department of Arts and Communication hosted this year’s first major theater production, UTOPIA, at the end of last month.

The play centered on the idea of “trying to find humanity, regain humanity, define humanity, and deal with the loss of humanity,” said actress Heba Saab. It attempted to portray how people have started questioning the true value of life and the effects of their choices.

Extending that central idea, both the set and costumes were designed with sheer simplicity yet loaded with symbols to reflect man’s inner struggle resulting from the shift of values from morality to material gain.
 
A dominant motif was that of “skin and bones,” according to Saab. “There is a line in the play, ‘behind me a naked skeleton, a reflection of myself,’ that kind of sums up the theme that the outside is a reflection of our inside and vice versa,” Saab said.
 
Saab explained that the seven-meter red scaffolding, which extended across the stage, was meant to reinforce the idea of bones, or a skeleton.
 
On the other hand, the costumes designed by Sue Z. Chamaa represented the skin, Saab said. The characters used long pieces of skin-colored cloths to express and hide their emotions. Sometimes, they would tear themselves out of their own skin in fear, revolt and anger. At other times, they would use their cloths to wrap what was left of their good selves in hope of preserving it.
 
A black trampoline, placed in the center of the stage, “could perhaps be [interpreted as being] the core, the womb, even a membrane between two realities,” said set designer Bernard Mallat. It might represent the nucleus of human existence, a safe place or a state of innocence to which people want to return.
 
Dr. Mona Knio, technical director and lighting designer, recreated a realistic star-spangled sky. Once lit, it acted as a reminder that there is a heaven and, despite all the negativity, hope is always present.
 
According to the original script, each character was “very specific and defined,” said Saab. However, with time, these defined structures loosened, and the characters became heavily influenced by the personalities of the actors. “The actor became the character and the character became the actor,” said Ali Akel, who performed in the play.
 
“We are using ourselves as the bases of the characters,” Saab said. “There are still elements of the characters we embody, but mostly we play reflections of ourselves,” she added.

Director Nagy Souraty preferred this way of play production, where everyone added bits and pieces of themselves. “He is secretive and likes to see what the people working with him can bring out without him offering any ideas,” said Saab.
 
For Souraty, the plays that he creates are not pieces of art aimed at appeasing the audience. There is no story line, no specific concrete plan. “I don’t want to tell a story to people. I am just sharing emotions and raising questions,” said Souraty.
 
What the audience sees on stage, according to Souraty, is his struggle and quest. Theater becomes his outlet to deal with the many stressors that society bombards him with. “I am doing it for myself, because otherwise I die,” he said.


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