Michael Abou Nabhan
Jogging is a play written by Hanane Hajj Ali for her to perform as the lead and sole actress. Hajj Ali, in collaboration with AUB Theatre Initiative, performed Jogging in a full Bathish Auditorium on Thursday, April 13. Through this play, the actress immerses us into the lives of four women, including herself, revealing their struggles, needs, and restraints.
In Jogging, the fifty-something-year-old Lebanese actress and citizen takes the audience through her daily exercises that she does to avoid osteoporosis, obesity and depression. This is her secluded, personal space where she revisits dreams, desires, hopes, disillusions, characters, and roles.
The viewers were greeted with a dark stage, except for one light focusing on a woman, Hanane, as she lies on the floor dressed in a black hijab, black leggings, and a long black shirt. As soon as she picks herself up to begin the performance, she seems to never stop.
Through her jog, she hears the sound of birds on a tree and recalls the Quranic verse, ‘the birds with wings spread, Each of them has known his means of prayer and exalting Him…’ and is interrupted when a pigeon dropping lands in her eye.
She soon switches characters to tell the story of Medea, an ancient greek tragedy written by Euripides, and recalls as the story of a powerful woman who avenges her husband’s infidelity by killing their two children.
Hajj Ali admits that Medea’s character is both captivating and repugnant. She adopts this Medean characteristic during the time she watched her own son battle through cancer.
The next character the actress portrayed was a woman named Yvonne from Mount Lebanon who, resembling the story of Medea, poisoned her three daughters as well as herself.
Zahra is the last woman the actress takes on. She fought alongside her husband during the 1982 Israeli invasion. The couple grows more religious, adopting the hijab and niqab along the way.
Despite being the only actress, Hanane used the entire space of the stage for pilates, aerobics, push ups, sit ups, and jogging. She screamed and whispered, switched between characters and stories, prepared food, changed her clothing, wore makeup, and expressed extreme confidence with her body. The whole performance proves her autonomy.
Many times, Hanane would removed the barrier between the audience and the performance. At one point, she made three bowls of fruit salad on stage as part of her story-telling. When she was done, she handed them to the audience.
The actress would continually break the flow and manipulate audience expectations, especially from the beginning when she was wearing a hijab, setting a certain tone of sacred storytelling but breaking it immediately with profane humor and sexual desires hidden in her dreams.
Similarly when she switched characters and removed her hijab altogether, revealing her hair, then removed the wig to reveal the another hijab.
Hanane Hajj Ali ended with “Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, ‘There’s a rotten smell in Denmark.’ which literally translates to ‘هناك رائحة عفنة في الجمهورية اللبنانية’”. The entire auditorium laughed and clapped. Hanane received a standing ovation.
Aside from the positive input, there were some people from the audience who were unhappy with the play.
Following the performance was an open Q&A where a man criticized her work for being a lady wearing a hijab and performing her act while being confident with herself and her religion. She was unphased by the comment and calmly told him, “Yes, I am at at peace with myself“ And when he replied with “I liked you more when you were in the wig.” She ended with “Don’t be that greedy.”
She also noted that she did not present the script to the Lebanese General Security, so her performance is illegal if she gets caught. She continued to explain how the law desperately needs to change in terms of censorship and beyond.
The tonality of the entire performance very much resembles a jog up and down the uneven roads of beirut and the train of thought one might have while losing themselves on the road, and the empowerment and self love one gains at the end each jog.