‘Twelve Angry Men’ Produced in a Lebanese Prison and Everyone Abreacts

From a Wall Street Journal Theater Review: Every Sunday for four months, inmates from the […]

Drake / 4.15.09

From a Wall Street Journal Theater Review:

Every Sunday for four months, inmates from the all-male prison, Roumieh, have performed an Arabic version of Reginald Rose’s “12 Angry Men” (interspersed with their own music and personal testimonials). The actors are rapists and murderers. The prison’s other inmates include the top al Qaeda convicts and leading suspects from Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri’s assassination.
The play’s director is a woman from the outside, a non-inmate, and every week 200 people crowd into a small room in the Lebanese prison to watch the production. The audience consists of many people who have never been inside a prison. The play is performed in a black-box setting where the audience is right up close to the prisoners, and at times during the show, prisoners/actors pop out of the audience as a part of a scene. Remember the scene in the play when one of the jurors pulls out a pocket knife and stabs it into the table? This scene, too, is presented – although the knife used in this version: a butchers knife. The prison’s electricity often cuts out during the production, and the director shouts “Blackout! Stay where you are,” and then when the electricity comes back on, the play starts back up again….
EVERYONE is abreacting!! EVERYONE in the play and watching the play is releasing major emotions because of/through the play. There are incredible Gospel reactions: the prisoners are experiencing freedom and the audience is experiencing guilt. A few quotes from the folks involved (the first being a priceless Dorothy Martyn-esque one from the director):
From the Director: “The Lebanese system, based on the French Napoleonic Code, has no trial by jury. Ms Daccache (the director) says the actors call 12 Angry Men ‘fantasyland’ because the play’s event couldn’t take place in Lebanon.”
From an actor: “I hugged my mother for the first time in 18 years today. We’re not allowed physical contact during normal visits. Until I joined this project, I had no friends, no hope. Since age 17, I’m serving a life sentence for murder…”
Another actor’s testimony described by the WSJ writer: “…a convicted rapist tells his story, apologizes for the damage he caused everyone and himself. He didn’t know any better, he says. He was a street boy and joined a militia as a kid for survival’s sake.”
From the audience: “By evening’s end, the crowd is on the side of the performer-inmates, even though many admit their crimes during the various extratextual scenes.”
More audience: “An older thespian swathed in silk scarves thanks the players, chokes back tears and says: ‘You are not the only prisoners- we are prisoners in our country, in the whole region. You are us. We are you.'”