Shakespeare’s King Lear is being staged in Beirut for the first time in translation into colloquial Lebanese Arabic, as part of AUB’s 150th anniversary celebrations, which coincide with the 400th anniversary of the death of the celebrated English dramatist.
The play is a professional production with the award-winning Faction Theatre, a London-based theater company, and AUB’s English 244 theater workshop. Sahar Assaf, assistant professor of theater, is co-director with Rachel Valentine-Smith, and she also takes the role of Cordelia.
The multi-talented Assaf shares translation credit in this first-ever Lebanese Lear, with co-translators Nada Saab and Raffi Feghali.
The play is supported by the 150th Anniversary Committee and AUB’s Theater Initiative, which was founded to incorporate theater into the AUB curriculum and cultural life of the community.
“Sahar and I have a done a number of plays together,” said Dr. Robert Myers, who co-founded the Initiative with Assaf. “I suggested Lear because it reminds me of family disputes I have seen in Lebanon and the diaspora, and I thought it would be a fascinating play to do here, especially since it hasn’t been done before.”
According to Myers, the play is another step towards recapturing the theater culture that was long present at AUB.
“People have told us repeatedly that especially before the war there was an extraordinary theatrical culture at AUB,” he said. “We have done our best to help grow this community and to connect with the wider community because this is what AUB historically represented. As part of the anniversary, it feels like there’s no better celebration.”
The cast includes Roger Assaf as Lear, Rifaat Torbey as Gloucester, and Fouad Yammine as his illegitimate son Edmund. The set on which all scenes are played is bare. Minimal props and costumes are used to great effect to suggest location and time.
Torbey said that as an actor he feels like Shakespeare is almost like a sacred text and he is thankful institutions to such as AUB that are reviving it.
“When the Lebanese theater kicked off, it did with Shakespeare; then they forgot about it. Thank God AUB is here to remind us about the greatness of this author whose writings do not die out with time,” he told us.
About his role, Torbey added “Both Lear and I do not get to see the light before we are doomed and defeated. I become blind and start seeing through my feelings, and Lear goes mad and starts sympathizing with other humans; Shakespeare, first and foremost, is the writer of the human.”
The play, which opened on December 1, will be performed Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from December 1 to December 18 at 8:30pm, at Al Madina Theater in Hamra. Tickets available for all performances through Antoine’s ticketing service.