Carlos Chahine surrounded by talented Lebanese actors, adapted to the Lebanese theater Dinner with Friends. A multiple award winning play, that began on March 23rd 2017 and is extended until April 23rd at Monnot theater. Interview
1-To which theatrical type does this play belong? Donald Margulies writes about simple situations with real human emotions and life dialogues. He has said that the unifying theme of all his work is loss; he writes about relationships, compromises, disappointment and the life we have versus the life we wanted… As an American playwright he sets most of his plays in a recognizable, contemporary urban or rural USA, but the universality of his themes make them adaptable everywhere. The drama is told with humor and Dinner with Friends is a particularly funny play about a very serious issue.
2- What does it tell? Gaby and Karen, Tom and Lina, two seemingly happy couples are friends since their college years. Their children are now the best of friends and the two families lived everything as one; they were always united and there for each other. That was until that dinner where Lina tells Karen and Gaby that Tom is leaving her for another woman. Dismayed by that announcement, Gaby and Karen see their own life upset in the turmoil. Their higher ideals about love, commitment, family values and friendship are trampled by their two friends whom they had thought happy and inseparable, like them.
Dinner with Friends is a funny and touching play which tackles our fundamental values and beliefs. What is love? What is commitment? What is marriage? Do we have to fight, in spite of everything, to stay with the person we married for the family’s sake, for the children? Or should we listen to our heart, our desires, and try to find true happiness in our life, transmitting an invaluable wisdom to our children?
3- Where is it going to be played in Lebanon? This multiple award winning play will be played in the Arab world for the first time, in an original Lebanese adaptation scheduled to premiere the 23rd of March 2017 at Monnot Theatre.
4- Before theater, you worked in movies and directed a short film. What made you adapt and direct theatrical plays? I am first and foremost a classical theater actor. I studied acting in the TNS School in Strasbourg France, and worked for more than twenty years in the theater in Europe. I had the privilege to be directed by some greatdirectors in plays by Molière, Cervantes, Chekhov, Sophocles, Gogol, Racine, Shakespeare, Becket, Feydeau, and many others…
I went on to direct a short movie and then a feature documentary because I felt this was the proper medium to express some subjects close to my heart. The movies I make are a sort of diary that I share; fictionalized moments of my life that resonate in me, bringing out greater questions that can find their place in a film.
I came back to Lebanon after a long absence to work with Ghassan Salhab in Terra Incognita, in 2002, and kept coming back ever since. I rediscovered my country and built new ties with it. My greatest questioning was about the youth in Lebanon and I wanted to make a contribution to the artistic efforts that were being made. The God of Carnage (Majzara) was like a roll of dice, an essay. I was not expecting the huge success that followed; it encouraged me to make an attempt at adapting Chekhov in Lebanese with Bustan El Karaz. While this was maybe a bit too serious or too close to home for some of my audience, tackling issues like wealth, its loss, appearances, change, modernity versus tradition…; it confirmed my faith in the talents and potential that our country holds. Talents that do not often find opportunities; culture, unfortunately but understandably, not being on anyone’s priority list. My adaption of Dinner with Friends follows that desire to continue working in theater in Lebanon, to continue raising questions about ourselves, our lives, in an entertaining way.
5- The actors and the team of the play are young Lebanese who all come from a good background…The actors of this play are all young and extremely talented. I have already worked with Serena and Joseph whom I like very much and this is my first collaboration with Sahar and Alain. I find all them very touching, very unique in their acting style. They are so dedicated and have an amazing professionalism; it is a true pleasure and honor to have them on board. They all worked very hard to be where they are now, despite all the difficulties of trying to make a living as an actor in Lebanon.
I am also very lucky to be surrounded by an excellent artistic team, everyone on board understands the constraints of the project, of theater work in general, everyone is providing so much input and positive energy and I have no doubt that the end result will match and even surpass our expectations.
6- The play was awarded many international prizes. Do you think it will have the same impact in Lebanon? Love, commitment, marriage, children, relationships, breakups, friendships, betrayals… all of these are universal. There is no border when it comes to human feelings and that might explain the international success of this play. We live in a modern world that constantly challenges our understanding, but some values stay true. This play is indeed a very challenging one, for everyone: from the actors to the audience; we have all been through these emotions and we do have an opinion on these matters. The genius of Margulies is that he does not bear judgment: everyone has his interpretation of marriage and everyone is right. The audience is bound to identify with one of the four characters, to sympathize or be disturbed: our personal life is somewhat shown on stage and this cannot leave us indifferent.
7- In your opinion, which theatrical type the Lebanese public prefers? I am not an expert on Lebanese theater. While it is true that I do visit often and I have extended stays in Lebanon when working on a project, my life is in France. This is only my third play but what I can say is that we have quality spectators in Lebanon. There are people who truly love and understand theater and that is enough for me to continue making plays in my home country.
8- What is the future of theatre in Lebanon, according to you…Again, I am more into making theater rather than analyzing it. Every project consumes my life and I revolve around it; that leaves little place to all the things I know I should do, but I don’t do, like marketing analysis or other serious things… The future of Lebanon is in its youth, in its older or more experienced people who still fight for their art. The future of Lebanon is in the audience who will continue to support theater plays and Lebanese movies by going to the theaters, buying a ticket and encouraging the artistic performances. I know that our country has many other priorities, that government artistic support is not as important as other issues: that is why we, as individuals, have to continue encouraging all kind of performances, movies, plays, exhibitions… We will continue to make art, as long as there is an audience that follows.