What can a woman do when she feels so filthy that nothing she does can cleanse her? a young prostitute asks a barman who has just confessed his love to her.
“Don’t you think that a woman, disgusted both by the man she’s slept with and herself for permitting that, ought to be spared the punishment for killing him?
And so begins Reem Hegab’s intriguing one-hour theatrical adaptation of Gabriel García Márquez’s short story “The Woman Who Came at Six O’clock, currently playing at Al-Ghad Theater.
The story focuses on a conversation between a shrewd, agonized prostitute and a helpless, affectionate barman. The prostitute goes to his bar everyday at 6 pm to have the barman “entertain her until a customer picks her up.
One day, the prostitute asks the barman to lie to the police; to tell them that she’d arrived at the bar 15 minutes earlier than she actually did. The rest of the story is composed of an extensive explanation for this lie.
The play is an exceedingly creative take on Márquez’s story. Each revealed thread of the story is followed by a commentary performance in the form of dance numbers or little sketches.
These little dances convey the inner fiery sentiments of the characters at times, while also attempting to capture the vast, diverse emotional reaction the viewers could experience that ranges from joy, love and longing to sarcasm, disgust, despair and defenselessness.
Hence, these visual transitions transform it from a straight rendition of the story into an impromptu reaction to its events.
This distinctive representational method shifts the focus from the basic plot to the director’s and actors’ personal interpretation of these events. The sketches render the five performers closer to being spectators at the bar. From the other side of the stage, the viewers are transformed into secondary spectators, watching both the unfolding events at the bar and the performers’ take on them.
The sketches infuse the story with anger and energy adding to the dialogue’s vigor of expression.
In perhaps the most central scene of the performance, Neveen El-Tony comes face-to-face with the audience in a solo rendition, portraying what it feels like to repeatedly anticipate acceptance but being met with rejection instead. El-Tony’s face becomes a clear arena for the recurrence of this distressing cycle: a growing enthralling smile, a moment of shying away, and finally a disappointed jolt of anger leading to a desire to vanish.
With great Lebanese chanteuse Fairouz’s soothing voice in the background gently humming “Kesat Al-Ward (Story of the Flower), El-Tony recreates this scene over 20 times The scene acts as a lens, focusing many of the play’s events and putting them into perspective.
“Do you remember, I wonder, our green mountain to which the birds returned? That day our love was, to everyone, the story of flowers and melody of roses, Fairouz sings. “Do you remember, I wonder, your moon-filled promise of return and of picking roses? Or do you think our love has gone and ended, one lone season not to return?
El-Tony describes the scene as “a miniature journey of life and the disappointments we pass through in it, starting with our spontaneous smiles as children and ending with the smiles we fake as we grow older.
This scene isn’t a mere remark on the story; it’s a carefully-crafted impressionistic picture that probes deep inside both the characters and the audiences’ psyches, reflecting on Márquez’s themes of subjective realities, social hypocrisy and emotional autism, while adding extra layers to the story.
Despite the originality of this method, it carries its share of shortcomings. At times the sketches overstay their welcome, breaking the privacy of the two protagonists and downplaying their loneliness, while unintentionally distracting the audience away from the story itself. In addition, some of the dance numbers don’t seem to have any tangible association with the story.
Flaws withstanding, “The Woman Who Came at Six O’clock is a brilliant piece of modern theater, both in terms of treatment and production, abundant with haunting scenes that remain in memory long after the brief 50 minutes are over.
Catch the play at Al-Ghad Theater at 9 pm daily until Saturday. Tel: (02) 3304 3187.