THE MIDDLE BEAST

The Annex Theatre
October 9 - 19, 2003
Thursday - Sunday 7:30pm
Sunday Matinee 2:30pm

created and directed by: Joe Kodeih
written by:Joe Kodeih, Elie Karam and Marc Kodeih
featuring: Elie Karam, Mario Bassil, Jacques Maroun and Taranahsa Wallace



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 ideologies.

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 Review
A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew Meet in the Desert. No, It's Not a Joke
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 with it.

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 manner.

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 talented clown.

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 pure entertainment.

2003 page