x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ali Matar's Rest Upon the Wind coming to Dubai

We talk exclusively to Ali Matar, the producer of Rest Upon the Wind, and the director and cast members of the play about the poet Khalil Gibran.

Rest Upon The Wind focuses on the relationship between Khalil Gibran and Mary Elizabeth Haskell. Courtesy Sama Mara
Rest Upon The Wind focuses on the relationship between Khalil Gibran and Mary Elizabeth Haskell. Courtesy Sama Mara

Rest Upon the Wind, written by the director and actor Nadim Sawalha, is a stage production exploring the life of the celebrated writer, poet and artist Khalil Gibran, the author of The Prophet – and it’s coming to the UAE following a successful run in London.

Portrait of a man

It has been almost 20 years since Sawalha wrote the play, and the production, according to Matar, is now more elaborate, with an enlarged cast.

“Sawalha was very happy to revive the play. This is a story about Gibran the man, and the audience will be surprised to find out so much about him and how one woman helped turn him into a household name,” says Matar.

That woman was Mary Elizabeth Haskell, whom Gibran met in 1904. She was an idealistic, independently wealthy woman and the headmistress of a private girls’ school in Boston.

“Mary changed his life. Had she not, perhaps he may never have written The Prophet. She mentally and professionally supported him and she’s more a part of this book than anyone else,” says Matar. The story also follows Gibran’s emigration to the US as a child from his home country of Lebanon, his relationship with his sister and the struggle of adjusting to Arab-American life. “Gibran was a spiritual, intellectual and simple man, who managed to accomplish his dreams,” says Matar.

Gibran is one of the best-selling poets of all time. The Prophet, published in 1923, has sold more than 100 million copies.

“It was the first book he ever wrote in English. Gibran’s work also influenced many people including JFK, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash,” says Matar. “The popularity of The Prophet is due to its simplicity.”

The director’s chair

Despite his success, Gibran had a tough life. However, he never lost touch with the “divine inspiration that always led him”, according to the play’s director Tanushka Marah.  “Sawalha’s research is so thorough and everything has been based on fact, so I’m sure there will be a surprise for everyone,” says Marah.

By celebrating and revealing Gibran’s character, including his inner struggles – and often not in a flattering light – she believes the play will create a deeper appreciation of his words and visions. “To read his words is a treasured experience, but to hear them live on stage and share that moment with everyone else is a an experience I hope will transform and inspire, or at least warm the hearts of every audience member,” says Marah.

Being Khalil Gibran

“Gibran is the third-biggest-selling poet in the world, after Shakespeare and Lao-tzu, so it presented a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Gibran and his work,” says the actor Fanos Xenofos. “To make Gibran more ‘human’ and debunk the myth he was some sort of deity, we learn about his childhood, his mentors, his loves, his struggles and his frustrations,” he says.

The relationship between Gibran and Haskell was so profound, an entire play could be dedicated to it, says Xenofos. “Although strictly platonic, they loved each other deeply and were connected on a more spiritual level,” he says.

“I knew of Gibran’s work, but was unaware any woman played such an important part in his life. The more I learnt about this remarkable person, the more I wanted to help bring her story to life,” says the actress Stephanie Ellyne.

“Gibran and Haskell were passionate correspondents and exchanged thousands of letters over the 27 years of their relationship until Gibran’s death in 1931,” says Ellyne. “Their relationship perfectly exemplifies the saying ‘behind every great man, there is a great woman’.”

Rest Upon the Wind runs from Thursday to Saturday at 8pm with a 4pm matinee on Saturday at First Group Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah. Tickets cost from Dh195 and are available from www.madinattheatre.com, Virgin Megastores at The Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates, and www.timeouttickets.com. In Abu Dhabi, the play will be staged on October 27 at Emirates Palace at 7.30pm. Tickets start at Dh195 and are available through www.timeouttickets.com

melshoush@thenational.ae