“AB Beit Byout” by Tahweel Ensemble Theatre. Photo courtesy of Alexy Frangieh.
Articles, Reviews, Volume 4

AB: Beit Byout by Tahweel Ensemble Theatre in Beirut

AB: Beit Byout by Tahweel Ensemble Theatre in Beirut 
A Theatre Review by Michael Malek Najjar 
Arab Stages, Volume 2, Number 2 (Spring 2016)
©2016 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publication

I must admit that I was skeptical when I heard about Tahweel Ensemble Theatre’s production in December of 2015 of Tracy Letts’s play August: Osage County. What, I asked myself, could a story about a Caucasian American family set in rural Oklahoma have to do with an Arab Lebanese family in Mount Lebanon? After seeing the production, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. Co-directors Sahar Assaf and Raffi Feghali, and their co-translator Muna Merhi, did not focus on the American particulars of Letts’ drama. Instead, they rightly made their play Ab: Beit Byout (Ab is the Arabic word for August, Beit Byout is a children’s game) about the timeless conflicts of a family in mourning.

Assaf and her collaborators largely retain the original plot of the play, though they changed the titled, the names of the characters, the location of the play, and other details of the setting. For instance, as an homage to Letts’s play, the character Tamara lives and works in Oklahoma. The setting is an unspecified village outside of Beirut. The Native American helper in the original play has been translated to become a Kenyan woman named Kali (Aweel David), who is referred to by the other characters as a “Sri Lankiyi,” or “Sri Lankan,” the generally accepted term for a foreign domestic worker in Lebanon. Otherwise, the character relations remained the same, though the patriarch Beverly was entirely omitted. The title Beit Byout is a children’s game akin to “playing house,” which fittingly described the theatrical metaphor inherent to this production of the play.

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