THE MIDDLE BEAST, created and directed by Joe Kodeih of Lebanon, is a black
comedy about three men who meet to negotiate a deal over a piece of land.
Before signing the contract, they find a corpse in this land. They don't
know what to do with it, so the conflict starts. The three men, nameless,
represent symbolically the three monotheist religions of the Middle East.
A woman that we see in a different space is in and out of the conflict.
Only she knows who the dead man is, but the situation ran out of her control.
That's why she interferes to help the three protagonists.
This American and world premiere is presented by La MaMa E.T.C. and was
created to be performed at its Annex Theater. The Lebanese collaborators
wish to thank Ellen Stewart, founder/Artistic Director of La MaMa, who
"believed in us and helped us make this dream come true, for we are
the first Lebanese creation on (New York) stages."
The script was written by Elie Karam, Joe Kodeih and Marc Kodeih in English,
but not a "proper" one. Director Joe Kodeih writes, "We
speak it the way Middle Eastern natives do. We added to the play words
in Lebanese, Hebrew, Arabic, French and Aramaic. These words are kind
of spontaneous reactions." Explanations of these words will be given
on a leaflet before the play starts. Kodeih calls the play language-based,
but also "a mixture of script," adding, "we also worked
on the acting in silence." The dramatic plot is based on rapid dialogs,
shifting sometimes to silent actions, mixed with bodily expressions. The
rhythmic of the action is edited with quick changes of space and action.
Kodeih notes, "The title of the play is inspired from the name of
the region where the three protagonists of the play come from. This region
has been, since ages, the theater of many conflicts and bloodshed, as
if the Beast of the Apocalypse doesn't want to leave its inhabitants in
peace. The three religions that are meant to be peaceful and who are based
on peace, serve the warlords as a pretext to rule and install their social
The only decoration on stage is the lighting and a few props that are
used by the actors. The music is a mixture of Oriental-Cuban jazz from
the latest CD of Michel Elefteriades, a Lebanese composer who remixed
Lebanese traditional songs. Also to be used is mystic oriental music from
a CD by Sami Hawatt, a Lebanese composer and Aoud musician, and an excerpt
of "The Peace song," from the latest CD by Shawn Philips, whom
Kodeih had the chance to meet in Lebanon this winter.
The actors are Mario Bassil, Elie Karam, Jacques Maroun and Taranahsa
Wallace. All are in their late thirties and have trained and acted in
Europe as well as Beirut. Mario Bassil is a Lebanese TV and theater comedian
who was featured for five years on "Mouniaa fi loubnan," a Lebanese
prime time TV comedy. Elie Karam is an actor, director and choreographer
who has appeared in more than 30 plays, TV series and short feature films
in Montreal and Beirut. He was selected to create four installations for
the 50th anniversary of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Joe Kodeih
is a teacher, writer and theater director who came to La MaMa though the
workshops of "Seven Against Thebes" and "The Peter Brook
Experience with Jean Guy Lecat" in 2001-2002. He was a founding member
of the writers association "Ecritures Vagabondes" in Paris.
Also a journalist, he has been a writer and critic for the "Dalil
An-Nahar" for the last three years.
|NY Theatre Wire
A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew Meet in the Desert. No, It's Not a
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 11, 2003
For many people, the Middle East is the land of miracles. Certainly
Lebanese co-authors Elie Karam, Joe Kodeih (who also directs) and
Marc Kodeih have created their own miracle, or at least something
quite extraordinary - a play that deals with the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict and is also at times truly hilarious.
"The Middle Beast," at La MaMa Experimental
Theater Club, is about three men, a Muslim (Mario Bassil), a Jew (Elie
Karam) and a Christian (Jacques Maroun), who are about to close on
a deal over a piece of land when a corpse drops out of the sky. Each
of the men interprets this strange apparition in his own way.
"I'm sure the corpse is stuffed with explosives,"
says the Jew. "One of your spying corpses," the Muslim
responds. "Let's put our differences aside and try to find
a solution," the Christian begs.
The only voice of reason is that of a young woman
(Taranasha Wallace) who tells the unseen presence whose instructions
she appears to be following, "They're speaking the same language,
but it seems different."
The characters jeer at each other throughout the
play. The Jew and the Muslim argue over who has the bigger nose.
Sometimes they gang up against the Christian. They laugh at his
unclean habit of eating pig and the possibility that he may not
be circumcised. The Christian counters by telling the Muslim that
at least he does not first wipe his ass with his hand and then eat
At the same time none of the characters are spared
by the playwright. The Jew believes the body is a fiddler who has
fallen from the roof. He suspects he himself may be the Messiah.
The Muslim cannot stop himself from praying loudly
and disturbing his neighbors, who are praying more quietly. When
the picture of a pretty young woman is found on the body he grabs
it and begins handling his private parts in a less than innocent
The Christian is mostly concerned with his commission
and is largely ineffective in mediating the dispute.
And in a truly wonderful episode, the three men examine
the body to see if the dead man had been circumcised. A process
proceeded by a good deal of hesitation but accompanied with a good
deal of salacious joking.
The direction of "The Middle Beast" is
brilliant, as is the dialogue. Kodeih keeps the scenes moving at
a leisurely pace, giving his actors ample time to develop their
characters both physically and verbally.
He presents the play on a stage that is bare except
for the structure on which the woman resides. He sets the mood with
Oriental-Cuban jazz music from the latest CD of Lebanese composer
Michel Elefteriades, who remixed traditional Lebanese traditional
songs; mystic oriental music by Lebanese composer Same Hawatt; and
an excerpt from "The Peace Song," by Shawn Philips.
The three men in "The Middle Beast" live
in three different worlds. The Muslim and Jew's mistrust is so great
that each refuses to precede the other when walking off with the
Christian. They also describe the death of a Muslim woman in totally
different terms - ironically, while the Christian sleeps. In fact,
the only thing the three men can agree on is how to roll hashish
into a cigarette.
Yet each man is positive he knows exactly what God
wants. Although one suspects God may only want them to stop fighting.
But despite the tragic misunderstandings, there's
something definitely vaudevillian about the three male actors. At
times their verbal assaults remind one of the Marx brothers, while
their physicality is more like the Three Stooges. Bassil is a particularly
The director has noted the title of the play is inspired
by "the name of the region where the three protagonists of
the play come from. This region has been, since ages, the theater
of many conflicts and bloodshed, as if the Beast of the Apocalypse
doesn't want to leave its inhabitants in peace. The three religions
that are meant to be peaceful and who are based on peace, serve
the warlords as a pretext to rule and install their social ideologies."
The vision expressed in The Middle Beast is certainly
not optimistic. One feels that, despite the three men's desire to
avoid some awful outcome, their fate has been inexorably sealed
by their own righteous stubbornness.
The only hope offered by "The Middle Beast"
is that perhaps those who see the play will see the foolishness
of continuing on the same murderous path and, if possible, do something
about it. That may be the best reason for seeing "The Middle
Beast". The other reason is that, from beginning to end, it's