BEIRUT: “Why must you mistreat my children so much?” a mother demands shrilly of her sister. Unabashed, the accused tosses her head and answers snottily: “I follow your example.” Seemingly gratified by the look of outrage on her sibling’s face – or perhaps the roar of laughter from the audience – she relaxes, point scored.
This exchange – which took place between two topless men posing as Lebanese women – marked one of the comedic highlights of Tuesday’s opening night performance of “Make Me.”
Branded as a dance-and-dialogue performance, the show combines a script written by British playwright Richard Thornton with direction and choreography by Lebanese-American dancer Jadd Tank.
A departure from the main body of the play – which focuses on the interaction between two couples, Leila (Joelle Merheb) and her British boyfriend Tom (Rami Saidi) and Leila’s best friend since childhood, Nimer (Wesam Al Del Late) and his Croatian boyfriend Mike (Hassan Dib) – the drama unfolded at a dinner scene featuring Leila and her mother, aunt and sister, played by the three male cast members.
The production, which was funded by a campaign on crowdfunding platform Zoomaal and put together on a shoestring budget, is being staged at multi-purpose venue STATION. Makeshift seating is set up to face a two-tiered staging area, consisting of the ceiling of a small room, which forms a mezzanine area accessible by a ladder and the floor between this space and the audience.
The lack of professional lighting and sound, combined with the simple set – the upper level left bare, the lower adorned with a plastic table, four chairs and a floral sofa – give the production a student-like feel, but Tank makes effective use of the unconventional space, which allows two characters to carry on a conversation while the other pair interact silently in the background.
His ambition to create a hybrid between dance and theater fell short of its mark, however.
Aside from the opening and closing scenes, which featured choreographed dance sequences, the performance was dominated by dialogue. Periodic bursts of activity – all four characters running frantically around the stage like headless chickens while ostensibly searching for a bottle opener – appeared to have been grafted on as an afterthought, as though the performers had suddenly remembered that they were supposed to be integrating dance into the action.
A strong performance by the expansive Del Late generated the majority of the laughs Tuesday, while Dib provided a foil for his antics. Their tendency to ham it up meshed effectively with Thornton’s script, which lends itself to well-delivered one-liners.
Their onstage chemistry wasn’t matched by Merheb and Saidi. The subdued Leila and frankly abhorrent Tom, who veers from angry and aggressive to cloying and clingy and is prone to making offensive generalizations – “Gays can’t shoot guns,” “The only way to an Arab mind is though the pillow” – seemed so poorly suited it was impossible to imagine what could ever have drawn them together.
A welcome addition to the scant number of English-langauge theatrical works written about and set in Lebanon, “Make Me” is full of potential but Tuesday's performance was unpolished. Staged after just two weeks of rehearsals, it needs some fine-tuning but it’s a production that deserves to be reworked and revived beyond its initial three-day run.
“Make Me” concludes Thursday at STATION, Jisr el-Wati. For more information please visit www.facebook.com/makemeplay