AB: Beit Byout by Tahweel Ensemble Theatre in Beirut

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Performed in the basement Babel Theatre with a minimalist set design, the production clearly focused on the acting. The play was performed in one act with no intermission. The nondescript gray panels that served as the backdrop, minimalist metal furniture, and only the necessary hand props, everything on stage was meant to be purely functional. With the exception of one photograph hung upstage center, there was no set decoration whatsoever (which is unfortunate since the program presented the teasing idea that there would be family photographs that might be central to the design concept). The lighting was primarily for illumination, save a few specials that were meant to focus the action on particular actors in particular scenes.

Sahar Assaf and Elie Youssef in "AB Beit Byout" by Tahweel Ensemble Theatre. Photo courtesy of Alexy Frangieh

Sahar Assaf and Elie Youssef in “AB Beit Byout” by Tahweel Ensemble Theatre.

Overall, the Tahweel Ensemble played very well together and the performances were generally solid. In a play with a cast of this size, it is difficult to cast actors that can uniformly play the style with equal technique and force. Nawal Kamel cut a striking figure with the opening monologue of the play, wearing a distinct turban covering her character’s hair loss due to chemotherapy. This matriarch was less scathing and vituperative than Meryl Streep’s version of Violet Weston; instead, Kamel gave the audience a woman who could be fiercely angry at times, and terribly vulnerable at others. She is obviously a skilled actress, and this role fit her perfectly. Sahar Assaf’s acting as Tamara was a tour de force performance. Assaf imbued the Barbara Fordham character with a steel-willed determination to take control of the filial situation, all the while struggling to mask the pain of her divorce from her husband Nouhad (played admirably by Elie Youssef) and the youthful rebellion of her young daughter Dana (a spirited Sarah Mashmoushi). Assaf found the perfect balance between Tamara’s vulnerability and her fortitude—the two aspects of the character that make her both loveable and detached.

Farah Wardani’s Reem and Sany Abdul Baki’s Bahjat were a convincing pair doomed to love one another despite the knowledge of their incestuous past. Abdul Baki’s Bajhat was not the slow, almost mentally challenged character Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed in the film version of August: Osage County; instead, Abdul Baki’s character was a pathetic young man who never fully escaped his parents’ smothering oversight. Marcel Bouchakra’s Bahij and May Ogden-Smith’s Soukayna played their time-ravaged marriage convincingly, and it was apparent why Bahjat was so emotionally stunted given his family’s dysfunction. Raffi Feghali’s Karim was both charming and oleaginous, and Reham Sabeq expressed Bouchra’s powerful loneliness and desperation so convincingly that I fully believed that her character would remain with Karim despite his sexual advances on the teenage Dana.

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