Tous des oiseaux
Wajdi Mouawad has returned to the fiery force of his sweeping theatrical epics with a powerful tragedy that is unleashed in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The fiery force of Wajdi Mouawad’s sweeping theatrical epics is back with a vengeance! The impossible destiny of two lovers, she an Arab, he an Israeli, caught in the vortex of endless war. Incredibly powerful, a tragedy unleashed in the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secrets reverberate, the truth explodes, intimacy is shattered by world events.
Do our past and our origins define our identity? From New York to Jerusalem by way of Berlin, from love at first sight to a terrorist attack, from screams to bursts of laughter, the writer has created a gripping gaze that is embedded in the inextricable chaos of the Middle East. With its jumble of languages, it features an international, high-calibre cast, performers who have the blood of the characters in their bones. With Tous des oiseaux, Mouawad brings to light the frontiers of the inexpressible, the painful impossibility or reconciling sworn enemies, leaving us inconsolable.
Produced by La Colline – théâtre national
Written and directed by Wajdi Mouawad
Performed by Jalal Altawil + Jérémie Galiana + Nelly Lawson + Victor de Oliveira + Leora Rivlin + Judith Rosmair + Darya Sheizaf + Rafael Tabor + Raphael Weinstock
Direction Assistant Valérie Nègre
Dramaturgy Charlotte Farcet
Artistic Advisor François Ismert
Historic Advisor Natalie Zemon Davis
Original Music Eleni Karaindrou
Set Design Emmanuel Clolus
Lighting Design Éric Champoux
Sound Design Michel Maurer
Costume Design Emmanuelle Thomas
Make-up and Hair Cécile Kretschmar
Translation Uli Menke (into German) + Linda Gaboriau (into English) + Jalal Altawil (into Arabic) + Eli Bijaoui (into Hebrew)
Produced with the support of Cultural services of the Israël embassy in France + The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv
Presented by La Presse+ in association with Place des Arts + Carrefour international de théâtre (Québec) with the support of The Cole Foundation
At Carrefour international de théâtre on June 3, 2019 at the Salle Louis-Fréchette of the Grand Théâtre de Québec
Premiered at La Colline – théâtre national, Paris, on November 17, 2017
Wajdi Mouawad (Beirut + Paris) La Colline - théâtre national
Ever since his début, Wajdi Mouawad has been soberly presenting human and historical truths. In works devoid of didacticism, life prevails despite wars, despite men and women carried off by military conflicts. Human, all too human.
His first plays were presented in Montreal, the city where he developed as an artist, and featured characters and stories inspired by his childhood in Lebanon. His saga play Littoral dealt with the quest for origins and established his reputation as an outstanding playwright and director. His first collaboration with the FTA in 1997 led to Incendies, which was turned into a film by Denis Villeneuve. The FTA then presented his play Rêves, followed by the quadrilogy Le sang des promesses in 2010, which included Littoral, Incendies, Forêts and Ciels, an unforgettable event that deeply moved festivalgoers.
Wajdi Mouawad was artistic director of the Théâtre français at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 2007 to 2012, and in 2009 became the associate artist of the 63rd edition of the Avignon Festival. His most recent cycle, Domestique, focuses on the theme of family. It began with Seuls in 2008, Sœurs in 2014 (presented at the Centre du Théâtre d’Aujourd’hui in 2015), and will be followed in the years to come with Frères with Robert Lepage, Père and Mère. Since 2016 he has been the director of the La Colline-théâtre national in Paris. After Tous des oiseaux in 2017, which received the Grand Prix bestowed by the Association professionnelle de la critique de théâtre, de musique et de danse, he created Notre innocence at La Colline and in 2018 a solo piece entitled Inflammation du verbe vivre. Fauves and Mort prématurée d’un chanteur dans la force de l’âge, created in collaboration with Arthur H, will be presented in 2019. His plays and novels have been translated and published in some twenty languages.
This project began with an intuition, which was that the play should be performed in the language of the characters. Thus the script had to be completed beforehand – which is not your usual creative process – so that it could be translated before rehearsals began. Why that need to write the text first?
The situation forced me to be more exacting. Given the time-lag due to the translations, I would not be able to rewrite or make corrections during rehearsals. I had to be more definitive and resolute than usual in my writing.
It wasn’t something I found pleasant, because I like to show up with scenes that leave room to manoeuvre, room for research. The text has always been central, but it shouldn’t be omnipotent.
In other words, I also like to write with sound, with lighting, with the space and the actors’ bodies. That polyphonic writing becomes possible when the text remains malleable. I found that my writing became more assertive. Out of necessity, it was more definitive than usual. […]
Now there is a desire to assert, and consequently the writing becomes less lyrical, more concrete. The subtext started to emerge, and that effort at affirmation led to greater depth.
It was translated into German, English, Arabic and Hebrew. The original French then disappeared from the stage. […] What to make of that disappearance, once the language in which it was written is no longer present?
[…] It’s a supposition, a hypothesis, but as adults perhaps we feel the need to revisit the experience of losing one’s language in order to be able to take a closer, more knowing look at it, to understand it, make it our own.
Maybe here, with the disappearance of the language I write in, lies the desire to revisit that particular experience. […] It seemed to me that Tous des oiseaux should respect the language of the characters, a conviction I’ve had for many years. I simply followed that intuition. Rightly or wrongly, but to me it felt right.
After all, the writing won’t be obliterated, for in fact the script will also be published in French. Playing hide-and-seek with the Arabic and the Hebrew is a painful way to write, for with each word I return to loss.
That intuition has immense consequences, i.e. meeting actors who share with me the same history of a region that is tearing itself apart. The only way to really meet is through story.
What landscape created that fragmentation of language?
We were forced to think in terms of fragmentation, for that history is itself the story of fragmentation. It’s a strange paradox. The characters fragment, break apart in order to tell their tales. We had to bring together actors speaking Hebrew, German and Arabic. […]
At times during rehearsals, we didn’t know whether, for a particular phrase, a character should speak Hebrew or German. Language is a matrix whose source always escapes us. When the father and the son both speak perfect German and perfect Hebrew, how do we decide which phrase will be said in which language? It goes straight back to History.
The landscape becomes a land of ruins where the characters do what they can to continue to love one another, but where their efforts come at a stiff price.
Did that detour not demonstrate the need to discover the self through others?
No. I’m suspicious of any spiritualizing, any thinking that is a bit too obvious. The consequences of wars and exile unfold over several generations. People lose touch with their original sources, and what often happens is that they no longer know why they speak the language they speak, nor why they bear the name they have. That is unimportant as long as all is well.
In fact, it would be wrong to start scouring the past when there is no reason to do so. But when an incident occurs, when loss obliges you to start reflecting, when you become the subject of your thoughts, then you face an often painful question, one that goes unanswered: “Why is this happening to me?” […]
An abyss opens up at your feet, sorrows and grief heave to the surface and the need for truth becomes as scorching as a red-hot iron. It’s a double-edged sword. Those multiple languages are rich treasures for Eitan, but very quickly the reasons for their great number will bring him to grief and misfortune. “What saves me kills me, what makes me happy destroys me,” howls this man who is about to go insane.
Eitan tries to resist, to remain ignorant, but that is not possible because History penetrates the very core of his being, the very thing he thought was his identity.
What then is identity […]?
I like to think that what identifies us are the words that come out of our mouths and also our voices, rooted in breathing. I like to think that identity is emigration, never immigration. Fixed identity seems to me to be the worst sort of closing off.
It obliges us to think of ourselves as the centre around which other identities revolve; some quite close, others very distant, some important, others less so. There’s nothing worse. […]
When a traveller is asked “Where do you come from?”, he can reply that he is from here or there. It is never possible to reply “My origins are my identity”, without renouncing the road travelled.
How did that writing choice become a gesture that drove you to go beyond artistic concerns and address, in the very heart of the work, the question of the enemy?
In concrete terms, a Lebanese person cannot be in contact with an Israeli. It is forbidden. Lebanon has still not recognized Israel. The official phrase used is “Zionist entity” and for the Lebanese state, the Zionist entity is the aggressor. If a Lebanese citizen were to work with an Israeli, he would be placing himself in a situation where he could be charged with treason, collaborating with the enemy. […]
What to do in such a situation? Write to denounce it? Write in support of it? Not write at all? Write about the suffering of my own people? But my people are not innocent victims, as I had been led to believe. What path to pursue when there is no hope of seeing an end to the conflict? Is reconciliation possible, given that there is no political will for it? Whether it be Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Russia, Iran and now the United States, none of those states wants peace in the Middle East.
While reconciliation is not even a remote possibility, destruction is also inconceivable. What remains is a situation of deterioration transmitted from one generation to the next, an appalling collapse and decay.
My way of being consists of refusing to comfort my clan, of irritating my Maronite Christian Lebanese clan. Not that I reject them, on the contrary, but I refuse their willful amnesia. […]
Without any premeditation, when I began writing for the theatre I insisted on creating characters who were precisely those I had been taught to hate. I gave them the best roles, turning them into vectors of strong emotions.
The same applies to the Muslims in Incendies and to a Palestinian in Anima. I wanted to create and to like the characters in Tous des oiseaux, an Israeli family, Jews, people who for years, since childhood, I had been taught to hate.
Such thinking is trivial, does not bring peace. Obstinately, it is also the role of theatre – to meet the enemy, against the wishes of his tribe.
by Charlotte Farcet, dramaturge
Reprinted with kind permission from La Colline (November 2017)
“Tous des Oiseaux is a throwback to the tales of family trauma and epic narrative that made Mouawad such a popular voice in the French-speaking world.(…) It takes an exceptional cast to pull it off, and Mouawad has assembled one.”
Laura Cappelle, Financial Times, 2017-11-23
« Wajdi Mouawad est d’abord et avant tout un exceptionnel raconteur d’histoires, et celle-ci vous attrape dès les premières secondes pour ne plus vous lâcher. »
Fabienne Darge, Le Monde, 2017-11-28
« Du très grand art ! »
Agnès Santi, La Terrasse, 2017-12-01
« Beauté des langues emmêlées, (…) acteurs internationaux à la présence immédiate, fluidité des images comme jamais encore ne I’avait réussie le metteur en scène. Tout est saisissant. »
Emmanuelle Bouchez, Télérama, 2017-11-29
« Un art de la narration rarement atteint dans une pièce contemporaine. »
Marie Diatkine, Libération, 2017-12-01
« Un spectacle puissamment poétique et une brillante réflexion sur l’identité. »
J.N, L’Obs, 2017-12-07
« Acclamée par la critique parisienne, cette saga (…) est devenue l’événement de la saison théâtrale. »
Christian Rioux, Le Devoir, 2017-12-05
« Grand feuilleton, grand dialogue philosophique, grand poème, le texte de Mouawad donne lieu à un spectacle impressionnant. »
Gilles Costaz, Politis, 2017-12-14