Friday, March 9, 2018

On Professor Talal Darjani's masterpiece "Pontius Pilate"

I shall begin with post with a disclosure, Professor Talal Darjani is someone I proudly call a friend, so throughout this piece I shall drop the pretense of calling him Professor Darjani and stick to Talal. In addition, I have read the text of play several months back as well since Talal sent to me privately.
However, the words below are not those coming from a friend but from an enamored viewer.
Talal's new play Pontius Pilate comes from Bulgakov's seminal novel "The Master and Margarita" and stars Khaled Al-Abdullah (with voice drama), Hisham AbouSleiman, and Majid Zougheib (with movement drama) with Dr. Maria-Christie Bakhos as assistant-director.
Talal is nothing if not a purist, I have read Bulgakov's novel and the words of the play - even if transformed into theatrical monologues and dialogues are almost translated word for word from the original book despite being reworked and rearranged. That's because Talal believes one should be very close to the original text - and he keeps repeating the Chekhov joke when the famous author and playwright stormed out of rehearsals when a director was not being faithful to his vision.
One of the major issues in the work of Bulgakov is the notion of good and evil and how interchangeable they appear to be on closer inspection - just to give you a hint, the song "Sympathy for the Devil" by The Rolling Stones was inspired by that book.
All of this brings us to Talal's play which premiered yesterday on the Russian Culture Center in Verdun. Tatal did one omission from the original book (there was one last scene of Pontius Pilate with his dog Banga - in the afterlife) and otherwise preferred to cut the text on the cliffhanger about Judas (will not disclose further).
There is almost nothing to reproach the play, the direction is flawless, the acting superb, the music by Tchaikovsky, the text Arabized to perfection, the use of space minimal but very meaningful, the message contemporary and adaptable to today's world even if more than two thousand years old.
Tatal told me privately that his main requirement for the lead actor was for the actor in question to "have the same vision about Potnius Pilate as I do" and Khaled Al-Abdullah delivers for sure with a voice which oscillates between low and almost inaudible followed milliseconds later by high pitched bursts. Most of the play resides on his long monologues until, later AbouSleiman portrays a Mathew (the apostle) who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Pontius Pilate is a man thrown in Jerusalem, has migraines, happens to dislike the heat, only trusts his dog Banga, and is caught between a rock and a hard place - namely the Jewish priests on one side and Jesus of Nazareth on the other.
Talal masterfully applies the "Chekhov's gun" principle whereby one only puts something on stage if one intends to use it - and the props of the play get morphed and recycled and used and reused with shifting shapes that transition from one use to another.
How the theme of the play translates into today's world is fairly simple to interpret - as if things has been freeze framed for twenty one centuries with the same ambiguity between the notion of good and evil added to the sense of martyrdom and fallen heroes, which looked at from another angle, is "treason". The words "Jerusalem, that cursed city" appear more than once in the play, and Al-Abdullah adds his mournful almost haunting singing voice to drive the message further.
To say I loved the play would be an understatement, in the photo above the dates and all useful information are cited, and I cannot recommend the play enough - even to those of you usually not interested in theater.