An Arab in My Mirror at the Irondale Center NYC

February 9, 2012 | By French Culture

On the stage, a woman is crawling, surrounded by other actors lurking around her threateningly. The woman tries to defend her with her words, tries to save face, but stammers. Her words are useless against their anger.

On the wall, a single line describes the situation: France at a loss in Gaza. Scarlet Maressa Rivera is playing French Minister of Foreign Affairs Michèle Alliot-Marie, booed by Palestinian demonstrators during her visit in Gaza on January 2011.

“Our project takes root in the light of the Arab spring […] the awkward silence of our diplomacy, even its complacency, in dealing with dictatorial regimes in place in the region, have laid bare the shortcomings of our democratic system and its contradictions. WHO ARE WE? WHAT IS FRANCE? WHO IS THIS?”

An Arab in My Mirror explores the conflicted relationship between the Arab world and Western countries -mainly France and the United States- from the demonstrations in Setif in 1945 to the recent events of the Arab Spring. Through a series of portraits, a multitude of voices come together to make-up this story, portraying a complex situation far beyond the manichaean politics of good and evil. The text alludes as much to the destruction of the Buddha in Afghanistan as it does to the burning of the Quran. In this tumultuous history, no one is innocent.

An interview with actors Raid Gahmi and Philippe Vincent:

When did you begin work on "An Arab in My Mirror"?

Riad Gahmi : The project was born on March 2011. We were in Cairo. We witnessed the first events of Egyptian Revolution, and began to think about it. We returned to Cairo again in June 2011, and created the show El Miraya El ‘Arabia with Egyptian actress Solafa Ghanem.

About that, one of the unique thing about “An Arab in My Mirror” is that in each country you find a local actress to take charge of the bulk of the play in her own language. How does this change of actresses influence your work?

Philippe Vincent : The play is a work in progress: not only are we influenced by the personality of the main actress, but also by the change of political events and by the country in which we play. Here in the USA for example, we have chosen to delete some scenes that did not speak to the audience, or to their national history. For example we have deleted the episode of the FLN militant thrown into the Seine during the demonstrations in Paris in 1961. We try to adapt our work to the mentality of the country, to its particular history. 

The play has been performed in three different languages: English, Arabic and French. How do you manage to play in foreign languages, especially Arabic?

Riad Gahmi: I speak a little Arabic myself, but indeed this is the main question of the play: how to understand ourselves? How to have a common discourse? How to accept the word of the other and speak it on stage? It is both a difficult and enriching process.

When looking at the show, one has the feeling of a scattered vision of history… As in an impressionist painting, the play brushes some of the main historical events of the conflicted relationship between the West and the Arab World in the 20th century, from the Algerian war to the attacks of September 11 or the recent uprising in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere. What is the lesson that one should learn from “An Arab in my Mirror”?

Philippe Vincent : We don’t want to deliver a lesson. Our point of view on the recent events and former history is most of all an artistic one. There is no preconception in the play: we try to stick to the facts, but at the same time to provoke an aesthetic shock within the spectator. It is like Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica: you don’t need to know the whole story of Spanish Civil War to be impressed by the painting.

Interview by Juliette Chambon
Juliette is a student at the École normale supérieure in Paris. She is currently working at the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

An Arab in My Mirror is currently showing at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn until February 11, 2012. For more information please click here.
 

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