(picture from LAU website: http://www.lau.edu.lb/news-events/news/archive/major_theater_production_bring/)

And she slammed the door open…said “You are dancing, pigs? Keep it on!” and vanished through the other door of the dark Irwin Hall Theater. The director Lina Abyad chose this time, with her presence in the performance, to be part of Kafka’s inner psyche. Like a psychoanalyst, she invited us to take a journey into Kafka’s mind and into his life that is loaded, at least with what we witnessed on stage, misery and harsh patriarchal dominance.

“A first sign of the beginning of understanding is the wish to Die.” Kafka’s Diaries. With that quote we could draw a bleak picture of what the performance would be, but with the creativity of Abyad, the performance included some hilarious moments but still in the framework of agony and inner pain. LAU’s spring major theater production, Kafka, His Father, the Boss, the Wolf, and the Pigs, was performed on May 8,9,13,14,15,16 at LAU Beirut’s Irwin Hall Theatre. The performance revolves around flashbacks from Kafka’s bitter childhood intermixed with readings of the letter that Kafka himself wrote when he was 36 years old and that was apparently never delivered. The letter was first translated into English from German and published in 1966 titled Letter to his Father. In 2008, a new English translation was published under the title Dearest Father. Abyad and Rachid Al Daif translated the texts to formal Arabic and the performance was in both Lebanese dialect and formal Arabic. The Lebanese dialect reduced from the potency of the play, but the use of formal Arabic when reading parts of the letters regained it.

Kafka’s miserable psychological composition found a compelling theatricality when his inner psyche was revealed on stage, but maybe Abyad’s vision was too internalized, too dependent on triggering associations in the contemplative minds of audience members. Maybe the mere act of exposing Kafka’s troubled relation with his father on stage was a catharsis that Abyad wanted to be involved in. Having many actors resembling the same persona –Kafka- who rush around during which another Kafka reads some lines of his letter, aids in creating a hallucinatory dimension. It’s not only a psychic pain, but also a sense of alienation. This is shown when the thoughts of Kafka seem literally alienated from, though multiplied in number, his body where it becomes under the subjugation and supervision of the father figure. In fact, the notion of patriarchy resembled in the play goes in line with the Arab societies where the father figure sits on the top of the pyramid and controls the family members. The play’s powerful effect originates from the affirmation of patriarchal authority which motivates its plot.

 Previous plays directed by Abyad like her last year’s “The House of Benarda Alba” written by Lorca tackle the same theme of parental oppression of their children and depicts the conflict between the parent and the child.  With the new play, the oppressor is not the mother but the father  under the same theme of traditions’ constraints. The previous play forms a trilogy expressing what Lorca saw as the tragic life of Spanish women. It is also a play expressing the costs of repressing the freedom of others. In this play, one’s individualism is threatened and the longing for freedom is seen through the symbolic meanings given by the acts of Kafka’s climbing the ladder and his conversation with the bird. The play could be also understood from political perspective where the father figure designating the Arab regimes is to be obeyed and not questioned.

The multiple Kafka personas seeking freedom via bird symbol

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