Wannous’ “The Rape” opens at LAU
LAU and AUB co-produce the English world premier of the play by groundbreaking playwright Sa’adallah Wannous.
In December 1987, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians took to the streets to protest the ongoing colonial rule of their homeland by Israel. The Israelis responded by detaining, torturing and murdering tens of thousands of them. “The Rape” — written during the Intifada by the Syrian playwright Sa’adallah Wannous — focuses not only on the lives of affected Palestinians, but also on the private lives of their Israeli torturers and the effects of these events on their psyche.
Directed by Sahar Assaf, the current production is a collaborative effort between AUB and LAU. The text was co-translated by Dr. Robert Myers, professor of English and Creative Writing at AUB and Dr. Nada Saab, assistant professor of Arabic Studies at LAU. While sponsored by AUB, the performance is taking place at LAU’s Irwin Hall until March 28.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity to have these two great universities working together,” says Assaf. “At AUB, we don’t have the kinds of theater facilities that LAU has, so it’s a privilege to have access to Irwin Hall. It’s all too common for people in Lebanon to work as if they were on an island, but this production involves students from both AUB and LAU,” the director adds.
Even though the play takes place in the 1980s, and many political elements have changed, its humanitarian message is still valid. “It’s such a complex portrayal of both Arab and Israeli characters — it makes you think a lot about the way we deal with the conflict. It’s also interesting for us to reflect on how things have changed,” Assaf explains.
Dr. Nada Saab, co-translator: “I partnered with Robert Myers to translate this fabulous work by Sa’adallah Wannous, one of the great playwrights of the Arab world. The topic was very daring when it came out, and still is. It embodies the talent that Sa’adallah Wannous has of creating very complex plays — you see two different stories in which two different groups of human beings are trapped in ways related to their identities. As a result, they are always questioning themselves in terms of identity and where they are going, and paradoxically have a lot in common with each other. What I like most in this play is that there is a character called Sa’adallah Wannous, whose voice we hear very loudly.” Photo by Alexy Frangieh.
Dr. Robert Myers, co-translator: “This play needed to be translated, because of the pervasiveness of torture in the world today. Dr. Saab was wonderful in bringing LAU and AUB together. Eventually people will start to realize that this kind of collaboration will generate more of an interest in theater among young people, becoming a transformative tool.” Photo by Alexy Frangieh.
Dr. Myers and Dr. Saab are currently working on a Wannous book for Yale Press, covering plays, articles and essays. They are also working on a book about drama in the Levant, a topic increasingly popular in the Western world. “It raises the profile of our voices and causes, which is very important,” Saab says. Photo by Alexy Frangieh.
Sany Abdel Baki, actor (LAU alumnus): “For me, working on Wannous is a unique experience, because it’s very text based. I think we are very fortunate to have that, because in Lebanon there is a tremendous focus on physical theatre. People seem to think that if we’re not moving on stage, its not interesting. But like English audiences that listen to Shakespeare, we should be able to listen to our playwrights. It’s very important that we are getting back to that.” Photo by Alexy Frangieh.
Marcel Abou Chakra, actor (LAU alumnus): “It feels fantastic to be back. The last time I did theatre at LAU was over 25 years ago, so it’s really special for me. I used to do funny roles, but this role is very serious, which is just as enjoyable.” Photo by Alexy Frangieh.