Syrian plays have contributed greatly to the current trend of sociopolitical and cultural ambience in the country. This has affected the entire Europe in regard to modern national and social issues in the continent. The modern Syrian Drama is exhibited by issues of national and social concern and relies heavily on Western ideas and methods of expressions. In the recent past Syrian playwrights including Ikhlasi started to employ motifs borrowed from Arab heritage particularly from al-hakwati and the khial al-dil. The motifs matched with the universal form of Western drama or integrated with the Brechtian epic mode can be labeled in the works of various Syrian dramatists (Roger 102). This paper examines the works of two major Syrian playwrights Ikhalasi and Udwan and their hit plays “That’s life” and “The straight path” respectively. The essay will evaluate the extent to which the major Syrian plays have employed major current of European modernism and the techniques that can clearly be identified in the plays.
Absurdism in the plays
The two plays; Udwan's That's Life and Walid Ikhlasi's " The straight path" are full of absurdities, bizarre sematic juxtapositions, occasional disjunctions, unpredicted incidences and irrelevant utterances (Salma & Roger 56a). They have a dramatic action based on the setting of definable sociopolitical realities which are both variable and surmountable, though absurdist playwrights are more concerned with ontological constitution of life, in factors that are immutable, illogical, insuperable and past time, space, and logic. Hence their illustrations of absurdities of the globe assume an integral absurd structure. In the two plays human incongruities are the immediate results of obsession with the most current science. The noticeable absurdity of activities in the plays reveals the hidden logical pattern shown by the repeated reappearance of discursive conversation or through the straining of event towards a climax revealing development and the likelihood of transcending the particular circumstance. The two plays are thus nearer to the absurdist drama described by al-Hakim as opposed to its Western progenitors (Salma & Roger 60a)
Although writing in the backgrounds of the theater of the absurd nearly lost its relevance in the late sixties, interest in Brecht rose as cultural organizations established a framework towards socialist thought in nations such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Additionally, with the Arab defeat of 1967 and the resulting national disappointment s, Arab playwrights realized that Brecht’s epic techniques offered them with an opportunity to address their listeners and explain to them the national, social and political causes of the disaster and educate them on how to handle such incidences in future. It can therefore be concluded that Brechtian dramaturgy was their strategy of establishing a probable means and boosting the falling morale of the hopeless individuals (Salma & Roger 65a)
Social political issues
The plays focus on issues of sociopolitical nature as the effects of war start to subside and the national wounds heal. Ikhlasi specifically focuses on whether evil is inherent in human being or is a resultant of a specific social class. In Ikhlasi’s Democratic Evening Party all episodes and linear structures are traceable. At the beginning the sequence of interesting games are rather episodic and resulted to re-arrangement. However the series of activities progressively gain momentum and develop towards a climax whose implication is both logical and symbolic (Salma & Roger 56b).
Several Syrian plays portray epic moods both in their plot as well as in the themes. Ikhlasi’s earlier experiments with the theater of the absurd and episodic mode are revealed in other plays such as “Tonight We Play and The Ten Drums of Execution”. These plays are full of epic moods. Udwan’s play That’s life also has epic moods as well. The movements in the plays are rather clownish and their language infrequently disintegrates into unrelated statements. Just like “The Days We Have Forgotten “ Ikhlasi episodically chronicles historical events of universal character have been used to show the clashing forces that determine the historical process. “Tonight We Play’ is different from Ikhlasi previous episodic plays in its emphatic theatricalism. Emphatic theatricalism implies that the actor and the actress actions frequently remind the audience that they are in a theater and emphasis is put on the theme instead of the plot and character development (Salma & Roger 56b). Udwan's That's Life follows a similar style. In the course of developing the play, the viewer is reminded that they are watching the play and this is not happening in reality. Although the play is full of emotions as the husband who’s the main character moans the death of his wife, the viewer is reminded of the theater through an emphasis on the theme and less focus on both the plot as well as the character development in the play (Salma & Roger 56b).
The 1973 war also between the Jews and the Arabs had a significant effect on development of plays in line with modernism. The war marked a change from a situation of frustration and humiliation to a situation or feeling of victory and a state of exultation in the entire Arab world (Halevi 40). Arab optimism was additionally enhanced by the growth of Palestinian resistance with the slogans of state liberation and self-determination. The Palestinian commando who assisted win the war became the heroes of the day. Ikhlasi has emphasized the Palestinian diaspora on suffering in exile and under Israel occupation and on the struggle for a homeland in his play “The Day We Shot Down the Bird of Illusion”. The play stresses the rights of Palestinians and his portrayal of the Israelis as vicious and merciless turn his play into pure propaganda (Halevi 45).
The dramaturgy of “The Straight Path” is as revolutionary as the content suggests for it echoes the revolt against Western dramatic forms that the Egyptian playwright Yusuf Idris had started in 1964. I several articles Idris expounded the idea that every state must have its own indigenous forms of drama on Egyptian shadow theater, the storyteller tradition and other modes of entertainment. Idris’s quest materialized in his play “The Flip-Flop in 1964. Later on, the Syrian playwright Sadalah Wanus successfully experimented with the storyteller figurative stature of “The Head of Mamluk Jabir”. This was followed by the play “The Straight Path” where Ikhalasi employs Syrian shadow play widely. Ikhlasi confirmed that in the 1980 interview that his episodic plays which owe much more to the local storyteller. The shadow theater has on its own been a popular form of entertainment in Syria and the Islamic world from the thirteenth century to the present. Salman Kataye, a Syrian historian and theater critic who has criticized Aleppo’s shadow plays notes that the last shadow-theater director, Meri al-Dabagh vanished with Aleppo in 1973. Ikhlasi himself mentions thatwhen he was a child he frequently visited the shadow theater. The influence of the shadow play on “The Straight Path” is characterized by its episodic structure, humorous devices and portrayal of the protagonist (Beinin 70).
The episodic plot of “The Straight Path” drafted re-arrangeable episodes, some of which could even be scraped due to lack of driving impetus toward climax that is attributed to linear drama and in many respects equivalent to the plots of the karagoz. This is a similar case to Udwan's That's Life. Some of the episodes in the play could be scrapped as they seem repetitive although they drive the reader towards climaxing. The Turkish scholar Nuvit Ozdogru illustrates the karagoz plots as episodic with little deception and action. The stories are loosely connected to the extent that episodes could alter places or be eliminated or new ones can be included. Similarly in “The Straight Path”, the scenes in which Abidou meets the press could be eliminated or re-placed (Beinin 70).
Both Ikhlasi and Udwan have included universal issues of expressionism, epic and absurdism in their plays. Ikhlasi has been predominantly been occupied with universal issues in his playwriting. Through his work he has explored Greek and biblical myths in several of his recent plays. Oedipus, Carden Song and The Shrine of Ibrahim and Suffia. The two playwrights have explored in depth the various issues in European culture. Aspects of Oedipus are also found in the play Garden Song as well. In the play Ikhlasi included other characters and ecdotes in the arrangement of the Eden myth (Beinin 70). Ikhasi’s and Udwan's dramas reflect a broad range of human concerns and a variety of artistic expressions. Both men and women in the world are either secured in the past and bound to the collective or are in revolt against social restraints and bent on prognostic themselves into a future shaped by their own principles. Characters are both real individuals and signs in all wickedness and beauty with all their wild aspirations and intense disappointments and endless resorts to concession. This assortment is presented in variant dramatic modes ranging from classical to symbolist, episodic, allegorical, and absurdist. However, Ikhlasi’s investigation of the potentials of Syrian and Islamic remarkable forms and devices like the narrator, the shadow play and other customs and his ability to merge them with Western forms could represent a deliberation contribution to Western drama as well as modern Arab theater (Salma & Roger 56b).