Puducherry

Into the heart of war in Syria, a telling narrative

Metaphor:Acclaimed actor Corinne Jaber performs her play ‘Oh My Sweet Land’ at Adishakti theatre near Auroville on Friday. Photos: T. Singaravelou

Metaphor:Acclaimed actor Corinne Jaber performs her play ‘Oh My Sweet Land’ at Adishakti theatre near Auroville on Friday. Photos: T. Singaravelou  

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“Can you look away?” implores Corinne Jaber in her one-woman show

The setting is as commonplace as it gets, a Parisian kitchen, complete with a refrigerator, a grinder and an oven. The narrative though is anything but mundane, with questions like ‘how fast do we become numb to pain?’ thrown at the audience.

Making its premiere in India, acclaimed actor Corinne Jaber’s one-woman show, ‘Oh My Sweet Land,’ played to a packed house at Adishakti theatre near Auroville on Friday.

Ms. Jaber is a recipient of France’s prestigious Moliere Prize and has performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

She also has an Indian connect; she played Amba in Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata. The play, a Young Vic and Théâtre de Vidy-Lausanne co-production, has been conceived by Ms. Jaber and written by Amir Nizar Zuabi, founder of theatre company, ShiberHur.

The unnamed protagonist, a Syrian-German woman, narrates her journey into the heart of the war in Syria, in search of her lover, Ashraf, through stories of refugees. Her words are punctuated by the aroma of sizzling onions, spices and meat, as she prepares Kubah, a traditional dish live in front of the audience.

The people she meets and the stories she gathers along the way, depict the human faces behind the headlines and the lives caught in the wretched war.

The protagonist is not unlike Ms. Jaber, who is also of Syrian and German descent, and lives in Paris. Her narration also occasionally harks back to her childhood and memories of her Syrian father, who believed in living life to the fullest.

Strains of Arabic music float by as Ms. Jaber is engaged in the meticulous preparation of the dish.

Kubah

Kubah becomes a metaphor for longing, the link between her Syrian roots and the European upbringing.

The war, though, is never too far away. “Nobody knows who is bombing whom anymore. They call this a civil war. There is nothing civil about it,” she says.

The stories come from a cross-section of society, united in their fate. One is a farmer who cannot fathom why anybody would bomb his watermelon field. The splattered watermelons are juxtaposed with bloodshed and violence.

Another story is of a Syrian actor who uses his wits to outsmart his interrogator. He tells the interrogator blood would not look good on his new leather shoes.

Even as the protagonist is shocked by all she witnesses in the battlefield, she is also stunned at the resilience shown by the people, and how the ‘best and worst of mankind intertwine.’

“We have only God left. Now God help us,” tells one of the survivors.

There is a tinge of hope when they say, “One day it will end as it began. We will forgive each other and God will forgive us. We hope God will forgive us.”

For the protagonist, her moment of heartbreak comes when Ashraf’s young daughter, whom she meets, tells her in plain speak, that whatever has happened to the rest of the Syrians would happen to her family too.

The Kubah, now prepared, the protagonist implores the audience looking at the scalding oil, “Can you look away?”

In an interview to The Hindu , Ms. Jaber said that it was important to tell the story of Syrians going through brutal suffering, ‘ignored by the world’.

In research for her play, she says she heard the constant refrain of being shunned when she interacted with Syrian refugees in Jordan.

“The play is a medium between the audience and the stories of these people,” she says. While it is a story about Syria, she says it is also a universal story about people across the world, their lives torn apart by war. Given her own Syrian background, the play also appealed to her on a personal level.

Ms. Jaber’s father had passed on the heritage of food, which she uses to connect with the audience. It also makes it easier to ‘digest’ such a difficult subject the world is tired of hearing about, she adds.

Next stop

The play is scheduled to show at the Prithvi Theatre Festival in Mumbai this week, and will then travel to Dublin, Amsterdam and Toulon in France.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 6:15:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/puducherry/into-the-heart-of-war-in-syria-a-telling-narrative/article6580344.ece

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