While the Lebanese theater traces back to the 1800s, specifically to 1848 and to Maroun Nakash, it has evolved in stages. Jalal Khoury helped to pioneer the realist, or modernist, movement from the mid-1960s until his death last December at the age of 84. Considered a trailblazer of modern Lebanese political theater, and banner carrier of the realist school, Jalal Khoury, a playwright, theater director, academic and artistic editor, remained a loyal disciple of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. The political freedoms available in Lebanon during the 1960s, which allowed widespread experimentation with different ideas and theater movements, made Khoury’s championship of realism, as well as the political theater, possible. In Khoury’s own words, the 1967 defeat injected new life into the Lebanese theater, providing a distinctive identity and personality for it, adding that the defeat had “great tragic impact on the consciousness of the Arab man.” In 1967, Khoury returned to Beirut from Germany, producing in 1968 “Weismano, Ben Gori et Cie” (Weismano Ben Ghoury & Partners), an adaptation from Brecht’s famous play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” translated into the Arabic. In this play, he changed the focus of his adaptation from a criticism of Nazism to an attack on Israel in the wake of the 1967 War. In 1969, he directed another work, “Labor Market,” based on Brecht’s “Mr. Puntila and his Man Matti.” Khoury also directed several non-Brechtian plays, including “Jeeha fi al Qura al Ammamia” (Jeeha
in the Borderline Villages) in 1971, which became one of his very popular and widely received plays. Another play, “Al-Rafiq Sejaan” (Comrade Sejaan), 1974, explored the strange separation and contradiction between the family and political party structures in Lebanon. Others among his numerous works included a critical and aesthetic work, his play “Al Kabaday” (The Defender, 1974), based on John Millington Synge’s play “Playboy of the Western World,” and “Khuzni bi Hilmak Mr. Freud” (Take It Easy Mr. Freud, 2014).
This is an excerpt of “Jalal Khoury (1933-2017): Brechtian Realist Forged by 1967 War, and the Birth of Modern Lebanese Theater,” by Elie Chalala. The full essay is scheduled to appear in the forthcoming issue of Al Jadid, Vol. 22, No. 74, 2018.
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