BEIRUT: “The bed is a bundle of paradoxes,” American poet Ogden Nash once noted. “We go to it with reluctance, yet we quit it with regret; we make up our minds every night to leave it early, but we make up our bodies every morning to keep it late.”For playwright, actor and director Sawsan Bou Khaled, the bed is more than a paradox – it is the place in which some of life’s most important moments occur.
“The bed is a place where we spend 20 percent of our life,” she says. “We are born in this place, we are sick in this place, we can rest in this place, we make love in this place and we die in this place – so it’s a very important space.”
Bou Khaled’s latest production, “Alice,” a collaboration with scenographer Hussein Baydoun, is an experimental 50-minute play, set entirely in a small single bed.
“It’s about a woman in her bed,” says Bou Khaled, who wrote, directed and stars in the play. “We don’t know what hour it is – we don’t know if it’s daytime or nighttime. She’s alone in a bed and hallucinations, dreams, nightmares are crossing her head.”
“Alice” – named for the protagonist’s cat – allows the audience to share the woman’s hopes and fears as though they are taking a ride in her innermost thoughts. These vistas are communicated not through text, but visually.
“It’s very based on scenography,” Bou Khaled explains. “It’s my third work with Hussein Baydoun, the scenographer, and each time ... I start writing and creating the theme, the whole story, the dramaturgy of the performance together with him. The scenography is the main hero, the most important element in the performance.
“It’s very visual ... There is a little text, but it’s just an element like all the others – the light, the sound ... It’s not a story, it’s like visions appearing.”
The character is swept up in her own dreams and nightmares, she explains, which are communicated through video projection, scenography, costumes and accessories. Visions take shape, only to disappear, leaving the character once again alone in her single bed.
The production is very experimental, Bou Khaled says, explaining that she doesn’t like her work to serve a didactic purpose or send a message. Instead, she prefers to leave it open to personal interpretation by the audience, who can filter it through their own memories, experiences and cultural backgrounds.
“It’s an internal monologue but the relationship between the audience and the actress is not classical,” she says. “I’m not telling a story ... I like to work on the emotions, not the intellect, so sometimes it’s not very clear.”
“The nightmares are very related to violence, to war, but it’s not told in a direct way ... Everything is alluding to other things, so the audience can create links and create their own story of what’s going on.”
Fans of Bou Khaled’s work will be happy to hear that “Alice” follows on from the playwright’s previous collaborations with Baydoun, the 2006 “Cryptobiosis” and “Vessels,” which the pair produced in Sweden and performed in Beirut in early 2011.
The set for “Vessels” was large and very elaborate, she recalls, covered with ropes that caused a chain reaction in other parts of the set when moved. For “Alice,” she explains, they wanted to go in the opposite direction.
“When we started thinking about this idea of a bed it was like testing how far we can go in creating from nothing,” she explains. “Giving ourselves very few tools to work with but trying to go very far – it was a challenge.”
Although Bou Khaled says her work is naturally influenced by her personal experiences and her life in Lebanon, she resents being pigeonholed as a Lebanese artist.
“I don’t like to be related to my nationality,” she stresses, “nor to my gender. I am a human being. I lived in this country for a long time, I was born here and I lived the Civil War, so for sure everything I do is very related to my personal experience.
“My whole culture and my whole world is built from these memories, but I’m not a Lebanese artist – I’m an artist living in Lebanon.
“When I create, I ask a lot from myself, on an artistic level, so I want to be seen as an artist from the world ... The quality of my work is not related to geography.
“In some festivals they choose artists because they are from this country, not because of the quality of their work. It’s a neocolonialist way of thinking.”
Sawsan Bou Khaled will be performing “Alice” at Tayyouneh’s Diwar al-SHAMS from Sept. 26-29 and Oct. 3-6 at 8.30 p.m. For reservations please call 01-381-290.