Long road to South Korean stage for Syrian drama

Thu May 10, 2012 10:58pm EDT
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By Eunhye Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) - A woman who was imprisoned in a Syrian jail buries her head in her arms, haunted by the faces of the people who betrayed her to the government. A man uses a mirror to look at the scars from torture on his body.

The wrenching new drama enacted by a Syrian troupe, given fresh urgency by the recent months of fighting and arrests in their nation, would not have come to the stage at all if not for two people at a theatre in Seoul.

The unusual collaboration, made more difficult by the fact that South Korea and Syria do not have diplomatic relations, began last year when artistic director Kang Seok Ran and producer Kim Yo Ahen were searching for a final production in a series about marginalized people they were planning.

"We were looking for a play that could show people standing at the edge of the cliff, while dealing with current issues," said Kim.

Through theatre connections, they met young Syrian director Omar Abu Saada, who was then trying to pull together a short play on how young people in the Middle East were using social media to let the world know about their situation during the tumultuous days of the "Arab Spring" and after.

"Saada was trying to talk about the young generation of the Middle East struggling and participating in the ongoing revolution, so we knew he was our guy," Kim added.

The result was "Can You Please Look at the Camera?" in which Nora, an amateur movie director, secretly tries to film testimonies from victims of unjust imprisonment, picked up by the police for "crimes" such as handing out flyers to uploading something on Facebook.

The actors' lines - all based on real stories - are intercut with taped interviews with actual detainees, projected on a screen at the centre of the stage. At emotional moments, the actors begin smoking cigarettes whose pungent aroma increases the tension in the theatre.   Continued...