x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

English debut of Emirati playwright Saleh Karama's One More Try is a big success

Resuscitation Theatre presents the Emirati play One More Try.

Khristene Astoriano and Prabhath Dhevindra in One More Try, a play by the Emirati writer Saleh Karama. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Khristene Astoriano and Prabhath Dhevindra in One More Try, a play by the Emirati writer Saleh Karama. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

A Resuscitation Theatre company show is a welcome sight for lovers of live stage plays, and not just because of the dearth of live, home-grown productions in the capital.

Usually, the company specialises in bringing back to life – resuscitating, if you will – classic plays, then giving them a setting within the UAE. This time, however, the company has changed tack and opted to stage a contemporary play: One More Try, by the Emirati writer Saleh Karama.

While Karama may have some renown across the Middle East as a playwright and filmmaker, the fact that his works are in Arabic means they perhaps do not get the international recognition they deserve.

So, Resuscitation Theatre is debuting the first English translation of his work.

Previously, Karama’s dramas have earned comparisons with the greats of 20th-century western theatre, such as Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett.

Like the plays of these two luminaries, the piece is a somewhat abstract, deeply intense drama, but, in essence, with little action occurring.

Languishing in her jail cell, we meet the prisoner Baya, who’s facing execution for shooting her husband dead after catching him in flagrante with her best friend (Nancy Awar).

She receives visits from her lawyer (Prabhath Dhevindra), who attempts to persuade her to plead not guilty to her crimes.

Later, the friend she chose to spare from death also arrives, and the two reminisce over their childhoods.

Using this scenario, Karama explores thought-provoking themes of freedom, the ravages of ageing and the nature of guilt.

While the entire cast performed admirably, the undoubted star of the show was Khristene Astoriano as Baya.

The Filipino actress managed to combine an unsettling sinisterness with outbursts of fury and the odd comedic moment into this complex role.

Her final soliloquy on how true freedom from the constant anguish of existence only comes through death was moving.

Praise must also go to the director Maggie Hannan, who opted for a minimalist approach, with an almost bare stage set and stark lighting to portray Baya’s state of isolation.

If one must level criticism on the play, however, perhaps the English translation could do with tightening up a bit, as occasionally some of the dialogue sounded a touch clunky.

That said, it did not detract from the enjoyment of the experience. As a statement about the talent of Emirati writers and the depth of theatrical ability within Abu Dhabi, the piece was an unqualified success.

hberger@thenational.ae

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