March 12, 2007


Social Issues Clown Their Way to Center Stage in Libya (MICHAEL SLACKMAN, 3/12/07, NY Times)

There is an awakening taking place in Libya. It is not in the newspapers, which are still organs of adulation for the leader, who is still officially venerated as a philosopher-king. It is not on Libyan television, also dedicated to promoting Colonel Qaddafi. It is instead coming out in Libya's nascent theater community.

Nearly four decades of dictatorial rule have exposed shortcomings in Colonel Qaddafi's stewardship and, while it is still taboo to blame him or his system, talking about those shortcomings is increasingly permitted.

"There are certain truths people are now talking about and they are not afraid to talk about, mostly about unemployment and jobs," said Fatima Ghandour, a drama professor in Tripoli. " 'Hospital' had a lot of criticism, more than you can imagine. This was never done before."

The talk emerging from the theater is almost always delivered with the rounded corners of comedy.

"There was this idea your role as an artist is to spread an idea," said Farag Abdel Kareem, an actor who played several roles in "Hospital." In that play, he said, "We wanted to entertain, to get through to the people without upsetting them."

The show played for 55 weeks, he said, a record in Benghazi, the northeastern city where it was first produced and where the AIDS crisis occurred.

More surprising, he said, was that it became popular in Tripoli, where it has been circulated widely in a video version. He said in Libya, poor communications, poor roads and poor relations between the cities often meant that what happened in one stayed there. But "Hospital" pointed to a common cause.

"It is theater for venting -- its purpose and role is to vent," he said. "And this is the reason for its success."

Libya appears to be fortunate in that its Havel is Seif al-Islam.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 12, 2007 8:29 AM
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