FTA Review: Wajdi Mouawad’s “Tous des oiseaux”

2019 Festival TransAmériques Coverage

Tous des oiseaux (Photo: Simon Gosselin)

Having first opened at Paris’ Théâtre de la Colline in the fall of 2017, Tous des Oiseaux is Wajdi Mouawad’s latest theatrical masterwork – a soaring spectacle with epic heart – now making its North American premiere as this year’s coveted Festival TransAmériques opener. After presenting the exceptional Sang des promesses quadrilogy at the 2010 FTA, the production proves a savoury homecoming feast for the Lebanon-born, Montreal-raised, and now Paris-based playwright-director, who here auspiciously returns to his origins with a story precisely on seeking identity, belonging, and truth.

Worlds collide, generations clash, and roots entangle in Tous des oiseaux – a sweeping saga on the tragic impossibility of reconciliation among nations and families enduring a legacy of trauma.

Set against the backdrop of contemporary Middle Eastern conflicts, Mouawad’s thundering creation brazenly brings Israelis and Palestinians face-to-face in a modern fable of young forbidden love to rival the ancient Greek and Shakespearean classics: Eita is a German-born Jew and a genetics researcher; Wahida is a Moroccan pursuing her doctoral studies in literature in America. They, perchance, meet at a university library in New York, and a fiery first encounter leads to more fervid confrontations not only against disapproving family members and the feared Other – but, ultimately, with the undiscovered self.

Tous des oiseaux (Photo: Simon Gosselin)

Mouawad’s sharp and darkly humorous script is here proficiently lifted from page to stage by an international cast of nine (Jalal Altawil, Jérémie Galiana, Nelly Lawson, Victor de Oliveira, Leora Rivlin, Judith Rosmair, Darya Sheizaf, Rafael Tabor, Raphael Weinstock), whose characters converse and contend in their native languages. The 4-hour marathon production is performed in English, German, Hebrew, Arabic (and surtitled in French – which the text was originally written in). The choice of which language is spoken when throughout the multicultural piece is a fascinating study of dramatic composition in itself, and revelatory of the greater social, and geopolitical tensions embedded in the narrative.

Emmanuel Clolus’s spectacular sliding set panels receive and reflect the titling as sleek projection surfaces, and the monumental walls in fluid motion are mesmerizing. Comprising the streamlined scenography is a single table, transformed for studying, dining, and operating. Chairs are arranged and flung about to either evoke order or chaos. Locations and timelines are seamlessly superimposed. The elegant simplicity and purity of it all allows Mouawad’s words to take clean flight.

Emmanuel Clolus’s itinerant set is the most striking of production design elements, but notable mention is given to Éric Champoux’s lighting, Eleni Karaindrou’s original music, Emmanuelle Thomas’ costumes, and Michel Maurer’s sound design. War is made omnipresent. (Photo: Simon Gosselin)

The complexity of human relations, then, is left to unobstructed observation. On one end of the spectrum is a generation brought up under doctrine; the progeny, however, are determined to defy tradition and break free from family ties – migrant birds without concepts of borders. Are we to be defined by our past and our origins? Do we continue carrying the burdens of our ancestors? Tous des oiseaux points to the transient nature of identity in tumultuous times and troubled territories.

A long standing ovation on opening night eloquently expresses the urgency of the prolific Mouawad’s latest tour de force.

The 13th Annual Festival TransAmérique presents

Wadji Mouawad

May 22 + 23 + 27 at 7 p.m. + May 25 + 26 at 2 p.m.
4 h including 1 intermission
In German, English, Arabic and Hebrew with French surtitles

Place des Arts – Théâtre Jean-Duceppe
175, Sainte-Catherine West, Montreal

Box Office
514 844 3822 / 1 866 984 3822

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