Lebanese playwright blends reality and fiction

Cast members rehearse a scene in Ghadi Mansour al-Rahbani's latest play. [File]

Cast members rehearse a scene in Ghadi Mansour al-Rahbani's latest play. [File]

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Ghadi Mansour al-Rahbani has written a new play, "A Ard el-Ghajar", that explores one man's complex relationship with his home country and a people of a very different culture.

The play is about an expatriate who returns to Lebanon to build a villa on the land that he inherited from his grandfather only to discover that a group of gypsies are living on it. The play premiered at Casino du Liban on February 16th.

Al-Rahbani discussed the musical with Al-Shorfa.

Al-Shorfa: Tell us about "A Ard el-Ghajar".

Ghadi al-Rahbani: The play is about a Brazilian expatriate named Salvador Kozhaya Hussain, who is a businessman with Lebanese roots. He inherits from his grandfather a plot of land in Lebanon, and he returns to build a villa for his fiancée. He discovers that his land is occupied by a group of gypsies who have built a small community for themselves. As a result, he faces threats and is forced to leave the land.

Al-Shorfa: What are the main lessons that Salvador learns?

Al-Rahbani: He discovers how corrupt society is and that injustice prevails. He also finds out that some government officials in the region are complicit in protecting and providing support for the gypsies in exchange for personal and political reasons prior to the elections. He learns about poverty and how the gypsies live by relying on fortune telling and astrology. He also finds his true love, Zeina, the daughter of the head of the gypsy tribe.

There is a conflict at the heart of the play that asks what is more important, the land or people? It is a bold play in terms of its theme.

Al-Shorfa: Who did you collaborate with on the play?

Al-Rahbani: I am the writer, producer and composer. I worked with Marwan, Osama and Omar al-Rahbani on the music and music arrangement. Marwan was the director. Papou Lahoud, our fashion designer, captured in her designs the world and the colours of the gypsies. Felix Haroutiounian did the choreography and Sami Khoury was responsible for the dabkes. We worked with a host of designers, sound engineers, stage designers and technicians.

Al-Shorfa: Who plays the leading roles?

Al-Rahbani: Actor Ghassan Saliba plays the Brazilian expatriate and Aline Lahoud is the daughter of the head of the gypsy tribe. Other actors in the play include Paul Sleiman, Pierre Chamoun, and Assaad Haddad.

Al-Shorfa: Would you call this play a musical?

Al-Rahbani: It is a musical par excellence. We dedicated all our efforts to the script to convey the play's main message. The direction and design were fresh, and the choreography was notable for its movement and eclectic dancing. The scenery, costumes, décor and lighting were elaborate and innovative.

Al-Shorfa: Is the music new?

Al-Rahbani: We combine gypsy and Arabic music, and we offer the audience a colourful music experience that mirrors the lives of the gypsies. We researched different types of gypsy music throughout Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and some European countries, and we created an eclectic music form that supports the script and the dancing. We created a magnificent gypsy world but with the spirit of al-Rahabna. The music is new, and we recorded it with the Kiev City Symphonic Orchestra, conducted by maestro Vladimir Sirenko.

Al-Shorfa: To what extent is the spirit of your father Mansour in this play?

Al-Rahbani: That is for the audience to determine through the screenplay and the music.

Al-Shorfa: What differentiates you from your father in this play?

Al-Rahbani: The entire project is new starting with the screenplay, the dialogue, the music and how the theme is boldly presented through dark humour. The play moves along the border between reality and fiction. There are elements of truth to the story as well as imagination and innovation.

Al-Shorfa: Does that include your take on Lebanese immigration and the relationship with land?

Al-Rahbani: The play does not address immigration as much as it explores the struggle between what is more important, the land or people and whether people are subject to fate or have a role in their own destiny.

Al-Shorfa: Do you plan to travel the world with this play?

Al-Rahbani: We hope so, but it might be difficult to do in light of events in the Arab world even though the play's theme is universal.

Al-Shorfa: Is it a risk to stage a huge project in the midst of current events?

Al-Rahbani: We gamble as we continue living, and we seek to present a theatrical experience the audience can enjoy wherever they might be because we continue to be optimistic.