via Alexy Frangieh
“What depth have we descended to?” calls out Rahel in perhaps the most dramatic moment of “The Rape.” Written by Syrian Playwright Sa’dallah Wannous, the stage play—a co-production between the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University running until March 28—focuses on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Upon hearing those two words, we immediately ask: Who is the play advocating? One of its strongest and most surprising elements is that the play only advocates humanity. There are no sides, but simply humans, fighting for a common goal—peace.
The dark background superposed with the light shadows emanating from a black baby stroller introduces the opening scene of the play. Thematically, this has very interesting implications; there is an immediate sense of conflict with the disproportionate darkness and the weak light.
The conflict grows even further when the image of a baby stroller, symbolizing life, is juxtaposed with the black and colorless stroller, symbolizing death. It is an excellent opening to such a human-centric play.
Director Sahar Assaf does a splendid job in coalescing the different scenes of the play. This is no doubt possible due to the help of set designer Ghida Hashisho. The set is simple yet effective at the same time.
With the help of the lighting designer Fuad Halwani, one of the most frightening moments in the play is brought to life in a very interesting and almost neo-noir style—the shadows of a rape scene are amplified on the background screen of the theater.
It is terrifying and beautiful at the same time. The costume design, by Bashar Assaf, is also a perfect match to the atmosphere of the play and the characters. The colors are mostly dark and simple, which fits brilliantly well with the setting. The female costumes are appropriately designed, allowing actors to make full use of their clothing by highlighting their emotions and the emblematic interpretation thereof.
via Alexy Frangieh
The actors are strong in their roles, notably Sany Baki who plays Ishaq. His character develops the most throughout the play, from someone who is confident to someone who is lost. And this transformation plays out quite effectively in the tête-à-tête with his wife Rahel (played by Soha Shukayr) after she is raped.
Rahel secretly knows that Ishaq is a torturer and we know that Rahel has been raped but Ishaq doesn’t. The dramatic irony slowly builds the suspense as each character hides the truth behind their lines. Finally, Ishaq discloses all his feelings and the overall effect is poignant. The way the line “What depth have we descended to” repeats itself first from Rahel then to Ishaq encapsulates the awakening of both characters and reverberates potently to the condition of Israel. This scene is unequivocally one of the best in the play.
The original play was written in Arabic and was translated for the purpose of adapting it to the stage. Robert Myers and Nada Saab’s translation is generally good, but it does often lose some of the poetic rhythm that is expected from its Arabic counterpart. When metaphorical description is used—which happens quite often—the English equivalent often sounds like a word-for-word translation that lacks any connecting rhythm in the verses. This leads to a confusing intonation and inappropriate stress points in some moments of the play. Ultimately, the translation could have fared better.
Even to this day, over 50 years later, we see that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn’t ended. After that much time has passed, the reality of the dual-sided torture becomes less shocking and almost forgotten; it is easier to forget. “The Rape,” much like its title, isn’t an easy thing to forget but many people try to because of societal ignorance. What the play does is the exact opposite, it brings back the spotlight to a struggle that even today needs as much attention as it can get.
*Correction: The source of the pictures above was misstated in the print version of this article, published on March 24. The photos are credited to Alexy Frangieh.