Four Plays from Syria: Sa’dallah Wannous. “Introduction,” by Robert Myers. (Edited by Marvin Carlson and Safi Mahfouz). New York: Martin E. Theatre Center Publications, CUNY, 2014.
“As the audience is seated and waits for the action to begin, the curtain is up but there are no actors on stage, only a billboard alluding to the 1967 defeat of Arab countries by “Israel, one of the most troublesome and dangerous of the imperialist states.” The billboard, reminiscent of both Piscator and Lenin, ends with a call to look into the mirror, to reflect upon defeat, and answer the questions, “Who are we? And why?” For an intentionally protracted period, nothing happens. Wannous describes this interval as follows: “The Time passes…There is no signal that the play is about to start. The…chaotic murmur…increases…Whistling sounds can be heard…spectators are laughing and some turn their heads…spectators…complain impatiently. They utter various statements.” The first words uttered are by spectators, that is, actors posing as spectators. Obviously, this moment is the first clue about the radical departure Wannous’s play represents from previous drama in the Arab world. The audience is not only the target of the work, which has as a principal goal politicizing them, the audience is integral to the work, indistinguishable from the actors from the inception of the performance. Al-jumhur, the audience or the public, is, as Roger Allen has written, “the starting point for theatre” in Wannous’s formulation.” (from p. xvii)