Edmond Chibeau looks at performance and theatre from the avant-garde communication perspective

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Location: Mansfield, Connecticut, United States

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chibeau re: Sharif

By Edmond Chibeau

There is a solidarity of sorrow that binds every woman who has lost a loved one to war. The womb of loss is the lowest common denominator. Bina Sharif speaks for the rich, the poor, the powerful, the unempowered, who have lost their blood relatives in the ongoing and ever-present, senseless and eternal, war.

The Republic of Iqra is blood red. The language of the play is blood red.
The silken river of blood that runs across the stage and the lights illuminating the actors are crimson.

The blood motif is an allegory for the vortex of confusion and of real blood that is being spilled across the Middle East at the very moment the play is being performed at Theatre for the New City.

We shift back and forth between the reality a woman who faces the loss of her husband, children, and her country, and the allegory of a nation that has lost its sons and daughters and political freedom as well as its sense of ethics. No one escapes Sharif’s hot and piercing gaze. Invaders, corrupt local officials, international power brokers must all face the playwright’s scrutiny. She looks at the human cost of war, of oppression, of governmental corruption at the local level as well as the national level.

In an age of music-video-political-campaigns and bumper sticker attack strategies the audience must adjust to the longer monologues that Iqra offers. Each monologue, like a sura from the Koran, offers a meditation on some aspect of moral responsibility. The 96th sura, from which the title of the play is taken, enjoins us to “read in the name of the Lord who created humans from a clot of blood” and “who has taught the use of the pen.”

As director, Sharif has dared to let the performers hold still on stage, and let the intensity of the words and feeling be conveyed by the cold stillness and white-hot concentration of the actors.

The form of the play is inspired by classic Greek Theatre. The cyclic structure of the play is musical. A theme is stated and developed and then brought around again later to be heard with new insight. The form is one of theme and variation, contrast and juxtaposition, rather than linear progression.

Over the years and over the more than 18 plays she has authored, respected theatre veteran Bina Sharif has worked in many dramatic modes. She has written and performed in Stanislavski psychological realism, Hollywood romantic comedy, Theatre of the absurd, Expressionism, Monologue, and gone as far afield as Performance Art (as distinguished from performing art). Sharif is a true woman of the theater who has dedicated her life to exploring all aspects of the dramatic arts.

Kevin Mitchell Martin opens the play with a monologue that sets the tone of the evening. His control and interpretative powers are immediately manifest as he interprets the lines of what is an essential prologue to the rest of the play. Later as the judge, he demonstrates his consummate acting skills in his dialogue scenes. Not only does he play well with others, his listening skills are honed to perfection.

When he listens to the Prosecutor (ably played by Nathan J. Schorr ) we listen too. Martin is able to focus and keep his body alive without mugging to “demonstrate” that he is listening. Kevin Mitchell Martin is the kind of actor that other actors like to work with.

Nathan J. Shorr as the prosecutor, Pierre O’Farrel as the Western Government Official, and Robert Freedman understand the lines of the script and the style of presentation that is being offered. They give meaning to their characters and make a strong contribution to the production

Bina Sharif is a Renaissance woman of the theatre. She has acted, written and directed for film stage and television. Her performance in Iqra is chilling. Her vocal inflection carries overtones of personal suffering and compassion for all those who have suffered. When she is still, it is a stillness that speaks volumes. When she moves she is silk in a warm breeze.

The play is not just about the current war but about war as a human obsession.

The men of ancient Sparta claim that Spartan mothers told their sons to come home “with your shield or on it.” Speaking for women throughout history, Sharif asks us to reexamine the values inscribed on Sparta’s bloody shield. This is a play for those who love language and hate war.

The spare but effective lighting designed by Alex Bartenieff sets the mood, enriches the portrayal of the characters and illuminates the meaning of the text.

It is fitting that this Iqra should be presented by Crystal Field and TNC.
Theatre for the New City has been presenting new playwrights as well as alternative, oppositional and avant-garde theatre for 36 years. Among many honors its people have received are the Pulitzer Prize, 43 Obie Awards, 10 Rockefeller Fellowships and 5 ASCAPS. In 1997 TNC produced Between Life and Death by Chinese exile playwright Gao Xingjian. In 2000 he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Republic of Iqra, by Bina Sharif is at Theatre for the New City, 155 First Ave. February 23rd to March 19th, 2006.


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