Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Theater Review: "Rest Upon The Wind"

Inspired by the life of Gibran Khalil Gibran, “Rest Upon the Wind”, a play by Nadim Sawalha, deals with the events that lead Gibran to publish his all-time great “The Prophet” and includes flashbacks to his childhood in Lebanon and his family’s immigration to the USA.

I must admit that although I’ve read Gibran’s work, I am only loosely familiar with his life story, so the play was all the more interesting to watch. It starts when most of Gibran’s family members have died of illness and he lives with his sister Marianna who has devoted her life to taking care of him, but cannot seem to adapt to life in America. They live in the Lebanese enclave of Boston’s China Town and, as is often the case with immigrants, feel like social rejects. Gibran himself is portrayed as obsessed with Lebanon and the dream of freeing it from the rule of the Ottomans. As the plot evolves, he shifts his attention to completing the book which came to him as a vision when he was a child in Mount Lebanon. An American woman, Mary Haskell, pushes him to re-write it after it burns down in a fire and his focus turns to gaining recognition as a poet and an artist in the United States. He yearns to rub elbows with the likes of Carl Jung and other thinkers of his time and seems to be quite the ladies’ man.

Throughout the play, Gibran appears to struggle between his spiritual beliefs, as penned in The Prophet, and the very worldly aspirations of making his book a success and getting out of the cycle of poverty. The play ends after The Prophet is finally published, with Gibran surrounded by hordes of people reading his work aloud while he wears a cashmere coat, something he couldn’t have previously afforded.

One of the features that hit a chord with me is that, although the play is set in 1923, the political discourse around Lebanon and its freedom from foreign domination remains relevant today. How depressing to think that 89 years haven’t done anything to help us grow and mature as an independent nation. Even more depressing to think that-as the play contends- Gibran was invited to become president of the then newly established Republic of Lebanon but declined. Maybe having one of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists instead of tribal/sectarian chieftains head up the country would have set us on a different path.

"Rest Upon The Wind" has ended its run in London, but if you’re in Liverpool, Beirut, Amman or Dubai, I highly recommend that you try to catch it when it comes to your town. It’s well paced, nicely written, funny at times and with just enough “effects” to make it interesting without falling into the trap of trying too hard. The provisional dates for those cities are below:

Liverpool, Unity Theatre –July 10, 2012.

Beirut: End September (Al Madina Theatre - Hamra).

AMMAN: Early October (Al Hussein Cultural Centre).

DUBAI: Dubai: Mid. October (Madinat Theatre).

You can find more information here: http://www.gibrantheplay.com/

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