“In the Eruptive Mode”: A Woman Can’t Live on Poetry

Presented by ArtsEmerson
Written and directed by Sulayman Al-Bassam
Sulayman Al-Bassam Theatre (SABAB Theatre)

Emerson Paramount Center
Boston, MA
Jan 24-28, 2018
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Review by Polly Goss

(Boston, MA) In the Eruptive Mode is a quasi-feminist collection of monologues that tells a disjointed tale of suffering, hopes and personal struggle, set against the backdrop of the Arab Spring. The six monologues span a range of characters from a pragmatic prostitute unwillingly caught in a revolution, to a surreal American business woman pitching the next heir to an Arab throne to foreign investors. Hala Omran and Catherine Gowl give energetic and passionate performances that add vitality to Al-Bassam’s often intangible writing. In the Eruptive Mode, as the title suggests, is not a fully formed play. The script spills out unconstrained and oftentimes unintelligible and whilst there are bursts of poetry throughout, the piece overall felt flimsy and confusing.

Omran and Gowl both give strong and captivating performances, as they navigate rapid changes in character, place and time. Omran’s haunting performance of Nadia, the real life testimony of Nadia Murad Basee Taha, is the most poignant of all the monologues. Nadia is sung in Arabic and retells the horrific story of the abuse that Nadia (Omran) suffered at the hands of ISIS soldiers.

Al-Basam’s writing felt more suited to the intimacy of a black box space, rather than the art deco style of the Robert J. Orchard Stage at the Emerson Paramount Center. Al-Bassam warned the audience at the beginning ‘this piece will work you’ and it certainly took some work to figure out what was going on at many points in the play. The piece felt rushed as we jumped from one woman’s story to the next, meaning the characters became a blur of nameless, faceless, women.

Al-Bassam’s strength is certainly his lyricism and I personally preferred the pieces performed in Arabic, which allowed me more space to digest the meaning when reading the English subtitles. His directing however often felt crass and opposed to the aesthetic quality of the script and at points even seemed to objectify the women on stage.

In the Eruptive Mode certainly has some important stories to tell and Al-Bassam should be commended for seeking to shed light on the ordinary suffering of citizens in the Middle East, who are often overlooked by the rest of the world. Omran and Gowl perform with fearlessness and the production is underscored by compelling composition from Brittany Anjou, which creates an intriguing dream-like effect to the piece. I hope Sulayman Al-Bassam Theatre will continue to ‘work the piece’ and strive to truly tell these women’s stories. Overall In the Eruptive Mode still feels like a work in progress, but certainly a piece bursting with potential.

Queen’s Note:
We elected a thin-skinned Nazi to the office of the President who is turning our “democracy” into a fascist, totalitarian oligarchy dominated by the 1%. Trump is a monster. His policies, when he names them, are destructive. His narcissistic behavior is more so.

Trump’s government is coming for the the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for Humanities, and National Public Radio. It is ever important to remain vigilant. And, for the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. May the force be with you. – KD

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