Syrian Refugee Drama Troupe Seeks to Heal Traumas

Al Jadid Staff
In photos: (Left) Eman al-Shayabi, Moustafa Murad, Mahmoud Saddiqa, and Mohammed Kabbour in “Love Boat” in Amman, Jordan. (Right) Eman Al-Shayab holds her prosthetic leg in rehearsal for "Love Boat." Photos by Bart Pitchford.

It is no accident that the "Love Boat" theatrical sea journey ends in Shakespeare's "King Lear," as more and more Syrians die either under assault from Assad and Russian bombs or by drowning, desperately taking to the seas in hopes of escaping genocidal policies.

Unrelated to an American TV series under the same name, “Love Boat,” directed by Nawar Bulbul and performed last April in Amman, weaves together a charming fictional story about members of a theatre troupe who have fled Syria in the midst of war and reunited in the Mediterranean. The characters in the story band together to perform a new play in each of the countries they cross as they inch towards Germany seeking refuge. The adaptations range from “The Knights” by Aristophanes to “Don Quixote” by Cervantes, and “King Lear” by Shakespeare. These amateur actors — like the characters they portray — have become refugees. Bulbul uses a combination of singing, dancing, and comedy to reveal the inner strength of Syrian refugees who have suffered imprisonment, violence, and major loss. Through each of the different plays, he masterfully integrates political themes, and comments on human conditions through the characters’ narratives. One example can be found in a scene in “The Knights” which proves symbolic of the Syrian revolution and Assad.

Nawar Bulbul, formerly a famous Syrian actor himself, starred in the drama Bab al-Hara. He fled after publicizing his opposition to Bashar al-Assad in a protest. After being forced to leave both Syria and France with his wife, he ultimately settled in Amman where he began to recruit the other cast members of his play. Bulbul had previously directed adaptations of Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and “Romeo and Juliet.” In his “Love Boat,” Bulbul gathered other Syrian refugees who had fled after 2011 due to political unrest and violence. He met Eman al-Shayab in a non-profit organization which aided refugee children suffering from physical trauma. In one moving scene of the play, al-Shayab throws her prosthetic leg at the enemy plane which had dropped the bomb that took her real leg and watches, in her imagination, as it strikes the plane and causes it to crash. Al-Shayab, who chose to convey her story through humor, says the play allowed her to “do something good for my country by showing our courage,” according to an article by Bart Pitchford published by American Theatre magazine in the May/June 2016 issue. To heal traumas caused by their past experiences, Bulbul brings together a work of art where Syrian refugees not only prove their resilience, but also can tell their stories however they wish — not to evoke pity, but to prove their survival.

Although Syrians need miraculous assistance, theater can still promise them something of value. According to Pitchford, in an article by Elizabeth Hlavinka of The Daily Texan: “It allows [people] to picture a different future or world than the one they currently have. When you’re able to bring [that] to life on stage, it really allows you to reform and reshape what your world is.” Pitchford adds that theater not only helps refugees tell their stories, but also makes it possible for the world "to hear their stories."

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