KARACHI: Every year Napa International Performing Arts Festival churns out a diverse variety of plays. This time around has been no different. The German production Oh My Sweet Land was performed by Corinne Jaber on Sunday, and revolves around a love story in the backdrop of the Syrian civil war.
A woman (Jaber) compulsively and obsessively cooks a classical Syrian dish, Kebbe in her kitchen while she tells her story to the audience. A one-woman-show, Oh My Sweet Land is a bold theatrical piece, which solely relies on the narrator’s ability to capture the spectators’ attention for 60 long minutes.
The storyteller, in this case Jaber, creates an environment which feels less like a performance and more like a friend sharing an anecdote while preparing for a house party. The National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) auditorium, therefore, felt like a more intimate setting, akin to home, than it ever has before.
The minimalist setup consisted of a kitchen table, range and a refrigerator in front of a plain black backdrop. Jaber cooks. That is practically all the activity you see on the stage. And, she really cooks. It’s not make-believe and she isn’t pretending to. So, as she makes the food and the audience smells the aroma in the air, we hear of her Syrian lover. We hear of the memory of hands, as her fingers automatically mix spices and minced meat in a particular manner. Through her words, we walk through the memory of lost home and the memory of moments long gone. The smell of onions, spices and memories fill up the hall.
We hear of Jaber’s journey to find the lost lover and witness a war-ravaged country on the way, devoid of everything but memories. She speaks of the massacre of children, of aftermath of bombs, abandoned buildings, and of crying and wounded children.
Her carefully chosen words fuse in the air with the various aromas of food. Cooking Kebbe, thus, is an equally important part of the experience as the words, as we see how an everyday act of cooking becomes ethereal. It becomes her way of remembrance. And, the audience just happens to be there to catch her in the act. But Jaber doesn’t turn us away; she invites us, almost as if she was craving company or a dear friend to speak her heart out. Finally.
She, therefore, performs with intense conviction. Each of her mannerisms and expressions is a revelation of another layer of the text (co-written by Amir Nizar Zuabi and Jaber). However, at several moments, you do feel the play testing your patience. It drags in the middle and all of Jaber’s powerful undertones aren’t enough to stop you from phasing out.
But even then, if you manage to pay attention, Oh My Sweet Land is a memorable experience for multiple reasons. Firstly, for its experimental nature, which is unlike anything we have witnessed in the local theatre circuit before. Secondly, because of Jaber’s passionate performance and thirdly because of the ground it covers. It’s as much as personal play as it is a social one. It unfolds like an immersive experience, engaging all your senses. It becomes a meditative routine, listening to Jaber’s internal monologue play out as we dive into her tragic world.
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