16 Feb Zoukak’s “In my heart’s eye: The love project” deciphers all the emotions related to love with intelligence, depth and wit. By Christiane Waked. Editor: Heath Doolan
The Greek philosopher Plato, summarized what is to be in love as “a serious mental illness”. Both a “rapture” yet also “pure madness”.
Love is the Pandora’s box of human existence and both heaven and hell are contained within it. Once opened, you will be forever changed. Of that there is no doubt whatsoever. To dine in heaven or wine in hell, love has not changed since Plato’s time whatsoever.
In these dark times where pandemic viruses are terrifying, economic collapse and poverty are rife, and the internet has made human relationships a hollow thing from times past, this Lebanese Theatre Company has dared to study this conundrum of ecstasy we call “love”.
The Love Project studies a succession of ephemeral moments that have defined people’s various journeys. The play is based on in-depth interviews with people who shared their real love stories.
The audience are also the participants in this study, researched throughout this wondrous play. Not merely observants, the audience are very much participants. They are engaged and challenged in ways they could not fathom whilst taking their seats. Zoukak explores this human “need” with its audience from the first innocent inklings of infatuation, right through to the finality of loss, being inevitably the final stage of love.
Multiple stories form a journey where love between two human beings is both challenged and cleverly deciphered in ever changing monologues, with intelligence, sensitivity, immense depth and wit.
The seating is arranged in such a way that intimacy between the cast and the audience is paramount from the start. The actors Maya Zbib, Nasri Sayegh, Lamia Abi Azar, and Junaid Sarrieddeine begin reading sweet love letters to their audience. Engaging them intensely with deep eye contact and passion and heart; smashing down boundaries and intimately communicating, one human being to another, soul to soul in a beautiful and profound art of deep, rich communication.
Each story is followed by a caress of lips, a whisper in the ear, a soft hand brushing across the hair of random audience members. Sayegh and Sarrieddine then expertly build on these themes with their next story. Senses are aroused and spirits engaged in a kind of “love spelt out for dummies” type beginnings.
The cast playfully and commandingly are playing out those innocent early days where interest and infatuation find their way coyly to becoming what we know as love. Reminding the audience of their own sensations of falling in love with another. Empathizing with them, in a shared human experience, taking some as far back as childhood.
The brilliant director Maya Zbib used food as a way of explaining some of the complexities of love! From the craving for a certain dish, to being totally full and utterly sick of eating the same thing, and now craving something new and different to eat! The scene is subtle, profound, and extremely funny!
The actors’ improvisational skills are on show and do not disappoint! Inspired by the stories they collected during their conducted study, the cast adapts brilliantly, becoming the audience’s spokesperson.
Boundaries of time, language, age, sex, beliefs are seemingly cast away effortlessly. Love is of course intrinsic to all human beings. We know it’s seductive dance all too well. Its beauty and its terror. The cast’s men mesh into a female role and visa versa, leaving no doubt in the audience as to the new transitions occurring.
Homosexuality is still very much taboo in Beirut. The cast portrays same sex feelings in a society where they must remain hidden away from being known. And quite often never acted upon due to the fear of exposing these thoughts and feelings.
Lust, love? Heart or head? Realized or forever unrealized, impulses never acted upon, the effects of war and trauma, boundaries, both real and invisible.
A broken heart added to an already broken life can tilt the scales for many, who already are deeply intimate with post traumatic stress disorder and anxiety caused by war, and deeply form the inner cavities of a broken life… Is love always the answer? In one breakup story Sarrieddeine returns to the fetal position in order to hide from the unseen storm all around. The agonizing hurt of ending a relationship with another, all alone again in this place. I feel audience members can relate to his tortured torso. So tired from all the hurt… As the audience is led from an open relationship, to addiction, to devastating betrayal, this light breezy skip through the tulip’s view of love is very quickly severed, as we see the lash of the whip upon spirits laid bare. Merciless and unrelenting in its barrage of pain, yes love is not painted fancifully or without illusion throughout, by any stretch!
The journey is real. The audience are now captive to an understanding of intimacy we all share.
In a private room hidden away in the set, we are now whisked away to that place of body upon body and souls uniting as one in sexual intimacy, entwining as one. Where two bodies for the first time make love in complete vulnerability to each other. Nadim Deaibes’ sensitive and exquisite use of lighting combined with his technical design of the set, makes the journey and meshing of stories and concepts, an effortless transition throughout. And Scenographer Nathalie Harb leaves no stone unturned throughout in creating an in-your-face reality TV show uncurling before the audience and cast.
The psychedelic techno hypnotic beat, Ziad Nawfal lays down throughout, manicures what’s already in place and gives it a heartbeat. Horizontal ceases to exist and transcendental overrides the place! He adds his colour, his stamp, in the syndrome of ‘you are now moving as one’, that Louloua Ghandour adapts in her mesmerizing dance. Both strange and neurotic are her movements, her unique take on what this thing, this love, may actually look like if given groove to move within.
Before the final scene, Zbib offers Sarrieddeine a gun, in what might equate to love being a suicidal choice. But when we all are quick to pull the trigger on what’s irregardless. In the final scene, the actors both engage with and implore the audience to engage with each other. To look within the eyes of the one seated beside them, to tear up… to laugh… “Do not leave us” the audience is implored! “Do not leave us in the current crisis”!
As the Lebanese are indeed leaving the country for good, Zoukak is asking the audience to share one last dance with them. As for the conclusion offered? A sweet dance between strangers, now sharing intimacy with each other… ultimately love, is a dance amongst new found friends. A laugh at the end of a journey, and always the purest of virtues.