Review: D-SISYPHE (Décisif)

by Lynn on February 8, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre, Toronto, Ont.

Part of the PROGRESS International Festival of Performance and Ideas.

From Tunisia.

Created and performed by Meher Awachri
Directed by Meher Awachri and Imed May
Curated by Volcano Theatre

This was a moving, compelling, glorious production. From Tunisia. How rare is that for us to see?

There are two reference points involved with the production. First the Greek myth of Sisyphus. He was the King who was arrogant and deceitful and the gods got their revenge by forcing him to push a rock to the top of a hill, letting it roll down and then pushing the rock back up the hill again. For eternity. And then there is the play on words of the title and the French word Décisif (decisive).

Khmais is a construction worker who has isolated himself to such an extent that he is totally alone. His temper and violent nature have estranged him from his wife and son. He has no friends. He quotes the teachings of his uncle, perhaps an imam, and tries to find solace in religion but he seems to give prayer lip service.

He can’t go home so he spends the night in the construction site where he works. His only ‘companion’ is a brown plank of rough wood about 10 feet tall. Sometimes he carries the plank on his back, lengthwise, like a Christ-figure. Sometimes he carries it laying over his outstretched arms, as if it’s a loved one. Often he stands it on its narrow end, trying to balance it only to have to catch it as it falls. Then righting it and then catching it again when it falls.

The production begins when Meher Awachri, in the character of Khmais, steps out the whole square perimeter of the playing space. He takes wide, careful steps, as if negotiating a space loaded with landmines and one false step would be fatal. Khmais tells his story to himself? Us? Some higher being? Khmais speaks in precise, expressive Arabic with English surtitles projected on the back wall.

He covers the space like a prowling cat; a graceful dancer, a wandering soul looking for peace. He contemplates suicide but he knows that’s a sin. Does he do it? The program suggests that Khmais “chooses hell to be his fate.” The performance ends with Khmais with his arms stretched behind him, holding the plank, length-wise as he twirls and twirls in an endless dance until the lights fade to black.

At the curtain call Meher Awachri bowed deeply and then in an elegant move indicated we should also give applause to his equal partner in the performance, the plank that was now length-wise on the floor, resting on its narrow edge.

Meher Awachri is a gifted dancer, actor, performance artist and storyteller. In a short hour he told the story of a construction worker, alone, frustrated, in a place of futility and lost, both emotionally and spiritually, and he did it with economy, a change of a shirt or two, simple lighting, and a plank that spoke volumes. Wonderful.

Played only Feb. 6 and 7, 2015. (a pity)

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