The collection Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre, ed. Eyad Houssami, comes at a time of renewed interest in its guiding light, Saadallah Wannous (1941-1997):
Ali Ali ‘Ajil Naji al-Anezi, in a 2006 dissertation on Wannous, lamented that “Wannous’s name is virtually unknown in the West; only two academic studies of any significance have appeared in English on this eminent and challenging writer, who was honoured by UNESCO at the end of his life. Even in the Arab world his standing rests largely upon his celebrity as a cultural icon, since professional performances of his plays are rare due to the decline of the theatre in the region, and little attention has been devoted to theatre studies by Arab academics.”
But even before the events that began in December 2010, there was a resurgence in discussion of Wannous’s work.
In 2008, Eyad Houssami writes in his introduction to Doomed by Hope, he began gathering the threads of the collection that was published in English and Arabic in 2012. Then, “When revolts and uprisings began to unfurl across the Arab Middle East in late 2010, I couldn’t help myself: I had to bring the idea to fruition.”
In 2010, “The King is the King” was staged in Seoul, South Korea.
Others also checked back in with Wannous: In the spring of 2011, a Wannous workshop was organized in Cairo in solidarity with the Syrian people. Stagings followed, including, in the fall of 2011, Wannous’s “Rituals of Signs and Transformations” at the American University in Cairo. This past fall, a group of Beirut-based theater professionals won a $50,000 grant to stage the same play in Chicago and Beirut. According to Nada Saab, part of the team working on the production, the grant essentially allows for “a mini-Wannus festival,” set to be held in 2013.
Also this year, Wannous’s”Ritual for a Metamorphosis” will be staged by Comédie-Française (May 18 to July 11, 2013).
Wannous is not the sole focus of the collection Doomed by Hope, which ranges over any number of topics and playwrights’ work, but he is the light by which the book sets its path. In his foreword, Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury writes about Wannous’s life and work, including how the playwright kept his language accessible and real, overcoming the “sense of distance inherent to literary Arabic.” Khoury wrote that Wannous “began writing dialogue in colloquial dialect and then translated it into literary Arabic.”
Others in the collection examine particular works (Soiree for the 5th of June) or teaching Wannous’s work (as in Rania Jawad’s “Saadallah Wannous in Palestine: On and Offstage Performances and Pedagogies”), and director Jawad al-Asadi writes about his friend in “Remembering Saadallah Wannous.”
Certainly the collection is enough to whet anyone’s interest in Wannous as in contemporary Arab theater, with all its problems and possibilities.
There are a few translations of Wannous’s work online:
Al Jadid published this opening section from “Rape,“ trans. Nezar Andary and Osama Isber.
“The King is the King” is online in full, trans. Roger Allen
A tribute from just before Wannous’s death:
Al Jadid: Sa’dallah Wannous: A Life in Theater
And I realize this is a smallish-town publication, but