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A play searching for Ionesco, in vain

Submission and Anger, a play inspired by Eugène Ionesco, is an unsatisfying approach to communication and the mother archetype by director Moustafa Issa

Hanaa Abdel Fattah, Monday 13 Jun 2011
The Submission and The Anger
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On the third day of the 9th Festival of Young Creators (9ème Festival des Jeunes Créateurs), organised by the French Institute in Cairo and held between 5 - 11 June, theatre troupe Alli Sotak (Raise Your Voice) performed a play titled Submission and Anger. According to the programme, the play is a theatrical adaptation of Moustafa Issa’s (director) two plays by Eugène Ionesco: Jack or Submission (Jacques ou la soumission) and The Anger (La colère).

Submission and Anger is a very free interpretation. In fact, it is not in any way based on dramaturgical material we find in Jack or Submission and has only some ties with Anger. Taking this into consideration, instead of calling Submission and Anger an adaptation from two Ionesco plays, it would be more accurate to consider them as fragments or scenes from Anger. Using the name of the play’s protagonist, Jack, in Submission and Anger does not sufficiently link the Ionesco plays. The director was inspired by Ionesco and his ideas, but presented them in a very truncated manner.

Although I do not object to the use of fragments and the very trimmed references to one of Ionesco’s plays, in this case Anger, such an operation must still preserve at least some values presented by the original playwright. Submission and Anger being Issa’s theatrical proposition neither carried Ionesco’s values nor proposed the director’s new, clear vision.

In his theatre, Ionesco talks about what we call “normal” language becoming a barrier to real communication because such language has lost its value and is no longer an effective communication tool. Accordingly, Ionesco searches for a new language that could help people become closer. Issa captured this idea in a very fragmented manner and missed numerous deeper layers that Ionesco's thoughts demand.

In the 25 minutes of Submission and Anger, the director concentrated on the language concept expressed through Jack (played by Mahmoud El Wakil). However, Jack repeats many slogans to redundancy and, accordingly, his theatrical language is not fully developed and fails to mirror the mechanism of Ionesco’s ideology.

The play spews lines from the surface of Ionesco's theatre without cohesion. The monologue carried by Issa’s Jack, for instance, moves from a conversation with a female mannequin torso towards the character’s revolt against her, against the mother archetype and even against himself. The play starts with a pseudo-happy boy talking to his partner (the female torso); he soon realises the weight of the whole situation and of his mother, and eventually revolts against the mother archetype and the torso. Along the way, dispersed scenes present mainly Jack talking to the mannequin, sporadically, Jack facing his mother or Jack with himself.

The audience misses much in the relationship between the characters, including the role of language and how it loses its value along the theatrical build-up. Issa relies on the many repetitive statements enunciated by Jack, which stress the deficiency of language. Ionesco, however, used such repetitions not for the sake of repetition per se, but in order to find an alternative form of communication between the characters. This is, also, where the Ionesco idea of mechanical world and of the absurd surfaces very strongly.

In the end, the protagonist’s final anger or a revolt scene seems to be the simplest and the easiest exit for the director.

In his role, Mahmoud El Wakil showed he has promise in the theatre. Working with a good director on a strong text should realise this promise.

Mother, played by Mona Soliman - present on the stage throughout the whole play - doesn’t say a word and remains motionless most of the time. She resembles a doll, which we often find in squares and street corners during theatrical festivals. White makeup covering her face and her whole body stresses the idea of her character being nothing but a mask. However, mother’s role does not push theatrical development, which deprives the mechanical doll of important values that the character could have carried had the director given a deeper thought to this idea. Mother’s function as an object for Jack to revolt against is not a sufficient argument for her presence on stage.

Ionesco hides a variety of motifs, which find theatrical justifications and, accordingly, result in a perfect presentation of the absurd. In Jack or Submission there are plenty of crucial relationships pictured: those between son and father, son and mother, son and sister, son and family, etc. However, in his condensed play, Issa dropped all relations between the characters and many values, which are characteristic of Ionesco theatre and which break known taboos: language, family, religion, etc.

Definitely, any director has a full right to his own interpretation, as long as it is convincing for the viewer. Through his new theatrical proposition the director needs to defend his new, creative ideas with a strong and well-researched expounding through the plot. It seems as if Submission and Anger was prepared in a very short time and maybe even specifically for the Festival of Young Creators.

Furthermore, while the director proved to have good technical skills by compiling all the scenes, there are still many gaps on the theatrical and dramaturgical level that made the whole production weak and poor, even for amateur theatre. Although we have to keep in mind that Issa approached Ionesco as an amateur, he still failed to put forward his own theatrical interpretation. The result was a loss of Ionesco and, definitely, self-defeat of the director.

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In the 9th Festival of Young Creators the jury granted Mona Soliman with an Encouragement Prize for her role as Mother in Submission and Anger. 

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Hanaa Abdel Fattah is a theatre director and a Professor of Theatrical Arts at the High Institute of Theatrical Arts (in Cairo) where he was also the Head of the Acting and Directing Department in the early 2000s.

As a translator, Abdel Fattah has translated tens of dramaturgical and works on theatre theory from Polish to Arabic. He is a theatre critic and has published hundreds of articles on the theatrical arts in renowned art and theatre publications in Egypt and the Arab world.

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