The Prophet is a play of blurred lines and sharp focus. Past clashes with present, personal life informs public self and fiction entwines with reality in the powerful new drama by Hassan Abdulrazzak, opening at Davidson Nov. 19.
Based on extensive interviews with Cairo-based revolutionaries, soldiers, journalists and other residents, the play presents a snapshot of private life in Cairo during the 2011 popular uprising. Amid political turmoil, a writer and his wife wrestle with long-hidden secrets that threaten to tear them apart. And the audience will see it all unfold up-close, as director Samer Al-Saber tackles this difficult piece in the intimate space of Davidson's Barber Theatre.
"As an artist I've always been attracted to the line between truth and fiction," Al-Saber said, and the play explores that interplay in unexpected – at times unannounced – ways.
Al-Saber drew upon his diverse scholarly background to inform both his direction for the play and the build-up to it. In an effort to educate and entice potential audience members, and provide context for the show, he collaborated with colleagues in the Dean Rusk International Studies office and the Arab studies department to plan a screening of the Egyptian revolution documentary The Square, a "Davidson Learns" conversation surrounding the Arab Spring, a lecture with Egyptian historian Khaled Fahmy, and even worked with Vail Commons staff members to plan an Egyptian-themed lunch.
"I wanted to create a complex narrative," Al-Saber said.
Davidson's 2013-15 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow and visiting professor of theatre, Al-Saber is a Middle East and Arab studies scholar as well as a seasoned dramaturge and director. He holds a doctorate in theatre history, theory and criticism from the University of Washington, a master of fine arts degree in directing from the University of Calgary, and a bachelor's degree in theatre from the University of Ottawa.
As a Palestinian, Al-Saber grew up in the diaspora and spent his formative years in Kuwait and Jordan. The son of teachers, he traveled extensively with his family during their school breaks. By age 12 he had visited nearly half of Europe. When he was a teenager, his family immigrated to Canada, where he lived for 14 years before moving to the United States.
He was drawn to theatre because it is multi-disciplinary and multi-genre, and is a study of culture, he said. As a theatre scholar, he focused on performance in East Jerusalem and was particularly interested in theatre produced in war zones. While pursuing his master's degree, he worked as a dramaturge for a playwright, and it was then that he decided to pursue Middle East and Arabic studies in a formal way.
"More and more I was being asked to provide expertise on the Middle East," he said. He realized that he could combine his passions for theatre and Middle East studies in meaningful ways.
And he continues to combine them, as a cultural critic, historian and professor. While at Davidson, he has taught a course on the cultural representations of the Israel/Palestine conflict, as well as acting courses. He coordinated the multifaceted sequence of events leading up to The Prophet, and in the classroom he fosters an atmosphere of cultural awareness, collaboration and intentional performance.
"Instead of being solely recipients of knowledge, we can be creators of knowledge. Instead of being recipients of structure, we can be creators of structure. That excites me," he said.
The Prophet opens Nov. 19 and runs through Nov. 23 in the Barber Theatre, in Davidson's Cunningham Fine Arts Building.
The show is recommended for ages 17 and up because of strong language and violence. General Admission: $10; Seniors: $8; Faculty/Staff: $7; Students: $5. Purchase tickets online, or by calling 704-894-2135, or visit the Alvarez College Union Ticket Office, Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m.