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The “Angry Men” Theater Within Beruit: Acting Freely

Zeina Daccache has pressed her passion  for the transformative effects of theatre right into the heart of an unresolvable situation, men largely caught without recourse to or expression for their confined state, a penance paid within one of Lebanon’s most violent high-security prisons. She tells of how nearly 200 persons showed up in an open call for any who would be interested in theatre, itself a slight movement within walls that alone brings us to see how quickly the ice-sheets of expectation and bureaucracy can break. (Wade through the lengthy sections of advertisement and watch the 2 minute plus interview and story.)

 12 Angry Men Inside a Prison 

The result is a staged adaptation of 12 Angry Men brought to life this February and attended by officials of a prosecution which helped put these persons into incarceration. The occasion oddly allowed these men to “play” the prosecutor in drama, an inconcordantly voice their position to the system itself, within the system itself. There is something to this inverted expression that speaks to a possibility within any confined organization of effects, the way in which the idiom of dominant power can be taken up, the form of the very walls that confine, and folded to act as a conduit of actions. It is not quite a reversal, but a articulation within, in surplus of the arterial flow. The very monologues of the play were re-written to address the specifics of Lebanese law,

But they are using the play to call for the reform of Lebanon’s prison system. In the monologues in the play they question the very way justice here is done. They ask why the Lebanese authorities do not enforce the law that allows prisoners to appeal for the early release on grounds of good behaviour. They raise the issue of long term pre-trial detention through the real-life story of a prisoner who has been jailed, without charges, for nine years.

More personally, the initial 200 came down to 45 men whose commitment defined them, and thus changed their then more limited lives. Through the practice inhabitation of characters the very contours of their conditions were changed, all to varying degrees,

One of the inmates taught himself how to read so he could join the project, and another refused to quit despite serious health problems. Seated on benches in their barbed wire theatre, the inmates explain that the reason behind their enthusiasm is simple.

“This is the first time I have been treated as a human being,” said Mullah, who has been in Roumieh for 15 years.

“There is nothing for us to do here,” adds 28-year-old Joseph. “There is no exercise area, there is no entertainment, there is no proper food. It’s just us crammed together in the rooms.”

Zanelo, a 60-year-old drug dealer, added: “Others made fun of us for coming to work with Zeina, but I felt I suddenly had a reason to wake up in the morning.”

The combined effect was personal and systemic influence, the kind of which makes of one’s own condition a leveraged vector, a turning of the diamond that seemed hard to the light it had been shining.  Most remarkable perhaps, apart from the directional will of  Zeina Daccache, is that a Sidney Lamet directorial debut film from 1957, itself an adaptation, can come alive in another “copy” to a Beruit prison in 2009. This is not the hautology of the past, but the copulative action of an idea in form, cutting across judicial systems. This is real actor network theory, what it means to act.

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