One of the things I love about the new Progress Festival is that it brings international works to the Toronto stage that audiences here might not otherwise have a chance to be exposed to. While not every show will hit the mark; if you take the chance, you may discover a performance that surprises you and affects you in an unexpected way. D-Sisyphe (décisif) created and performed by Tunisian actor, dancer and playwright Meher Awachri is such a show for me. I went in with a bit of a detached, academic curiosity and emerged surprisingly moved by the performance.
Awachri plays Khmais, a Tunisian construction worker who is experiencing an existential crisis. He has become estranged from his wife and son. Dejected, alone, and feeling abandoned, Khmais ponders the meaninglessness of life and suffers a crisis of faith over the course of one night and takes us with him through his journey.
The piece is a dramatic monologue (performed in Arabic with English surtitles projected on the back of the set) punctuated with bursts of choreography and physical performance.
Awachri has a remarkable stage presence that is intense while at the same time remaining accessible. He has an underlying warmth that draws the audience in and holds us close allowing for a deep connection to the character despite the language barrier.
As hinted at in the title, D-Sisyphe is also an interpretation of the Greek Sisyphus myth. A lone wooden plank which Khmais manipulates throughout the piece takes the place of Sisyphus’ stone. The plank itself becomes a bit of a character in the show; it serves as a dance partner in one particularly whimsical sequence and as a stand in for Khmais’ wife, Samra, in a surprisingly tender moment.
The program notes and the work itself hint at the fact that the piece is also an examination of and comment on Tunisian society and the Arab World in general. I’m afraid my limited knowledge of the geopolitics of that world meant that I probably missed that subtext and those layers of reference. However, the work is compelling enough on its own and is well worth seeing even if you aren’t completely familiar with its broader context.
The ending in particular, in which Khmais manipulates the wooden plank that had been his burden in a beautifully light, airy piece of choreography evocative of flight, left me feeling like I had emerged through the dark journey with him and sharing his sense of catharsis. D-Sisyphe left me completely uplifted.
- All Progress Festival performances are being held at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. W)
- Tickets for Progress Festival Shows range from $10 – $30, several events are free
- Showtimes and ticket information are available at thisisprogress.ca
Photo of Meher Awachri by Ramzi Bejaoui