Words and photography by Rian Evers
When the lights in the theatre dim, the vibrant rhythm of the seven actors and actresses moving in sync on stage becomes audible. Creatively arranged lights produce doubled shadows on the wall in the back. It becomes immediately obvious that the characters in this play are crazy; the actresses have long disheveled hair, both the actors and actresses wear exaggerated make-up, their movements are spastic, uncontrolled and their mouths twitch in funny angles every now and then. I’m pleasantly surprised to be a witness of this silent physical performance, the first of its kind I observe here in Jordan.
The theatre play “Crossword”, directed by Dr. Mohammad Khayr Alrifa’i, brings a fresh new breeze into the mainly traditional theatre-landscape of Jordan. It’s a relief to find an attempt for innovation, experimentation and new forms of theatre on the main stage of the Royal Cultural Centre during the Jordanian Theatre Festival which concluded last week.
A clear storyline is absent from the play, and it lacks traditional characters with psychological struggles and conflicts. Perhaps that’s why some classify the play as post-modern or even post-post-modern. However, with body movement, constant varying interaction between the actors, choir work (a group of actors moving as one) and strong facial expressions as the main theatrical ingredients, I prefer to regard it as physical theatre.
The actors and actresses, all theatre students from Yarmouk University, give more than 100 percent on stage. They carry out detailed and precise physical actions with enthusiasm and conviction from the first to the last scene and maintain a harmony in exact timing and movement despite the changing rhythm and dynamic of each scene. This results in beautiful visuals, further emphasized by the clever ways in which the director makes use of the whole stage. The actors and actresses are flexible on stage: merging with the group in the background when required, while showing outstanding individual performances when they’re in the spotlights. The way in which they are comfortable being physically close to and with each other also pleased me a lot.
Since the director proves capable of presenting catchy visuals, funny tableaux vivants (frozen images), rhythmic physical scores for the whole group, and subtle highlights on actors’ individual talents, it is unfortunate to sometimes see him fall in the trap of superficial and unnecessary comical acting. The play intends to deliver a profound and intellectually challenging message to the audience about the manipulation of the masses through media, but only an amusing and entertaining sequence of scenes comes through; the audience embraces the comical notes while fishing for the hidden message. While some may have been able to make a story of their own, others had their laughs and left merely entertained. While this might have resulted partly from the absence of speech and storyline, it is also inherently connected to the directors’ choice for crazy characters; distancing the audience from whatever takes place on stage. No matter how much a director wishes to reflect an aspect of general human behavior to the audience by staging crazy people, craziness never works as a mirror.
So far I have seen three plays of the Jordanian Theatre Festival. Though their stories, stage-designs and theatre-genres differ significantly, they have one thing in common: all of them stage crazy people. Without denying that the actors’ performances in all these plays were impressive and require guts and courage, I must voice my disappointment for the directors’ choices in this matter. For, wouldn’t their message to the audience be more confronting and effective when we’d see people like ourselves struggle with the issues presented than when they’re left to be solved by the insane…??
Rian Evers is a graduating theatre-student from Holland.