Actors are accustomed to playing a variety of roles from one show to the next, but it takes a special kind of talent to play the parts of six different characters in a single performance.
Lithuanian actress and poet Birute Mar often plays multiple characters in each performance. She specializes in monodrama, which she regards as “the most personal theater genre, closest to poetry.”
This week Hamra’s Masrah al-Madina will host two of her award-winning monodramas – her adaptations of Marguerite Duras’ “The Lover” and Sophocles’ “Antigone.”
The artist has been a member of the Lithuanian National Drama Theatre since 1994, and these two shows have toured over 30 countries, winning multiple awards over the past 10 years.
Mar has been performing “The Lover” since 2001 and began working on “Antigone” back in 1999, but says the performances don’t get stale because the pieces are always changing and evolving.
“In monodrama the audience is your only partner,” says Mar, “so these performances change every time when you meet the new audience. Of course, after many times, the performance finds its own balance of rhythm, pauses, silence and words.”
Mar’s shows are multimedia performances, with her interpretations accompanied by video projections. “I like experimenting with different components on stage: sound, video, details of stage design,” the actress says. “In monodrama it’s quite complicated, because only the actor is on stage. You need to make all the other components partners, which help the actor ... It’s not easy with video, because it’s a very powerful stage component. It requires a lot of work.”
“Antigone” is the third of Sophocles’ Theban trilogy, which charts the downfall of Antigone, the offspring of an incestuous marriage, which is itself revealed in “Oedipus Rex.” Mar’s adaptation deploys video projections to depict the chorus, a central component of ancient Greek tragedy. The actress herself plays six different roles but performs the drama not in ancient Greek but in Lithuanian.
“The Lithuanian language is very close to ancient Greek,” explains Mar, “and we had a very good translation of Antigone in Lithuanian, so I decided to let the audience hear the music of my own language, which is close to the original in sound.”
Having performed the piece around the world the actress is confident that the language barrier will pose no problems for a Lebanese audience.
“Usually foreign audiences say that they understood it all, even not understanding the language,” she says. “Maybe because of the emotional energy, which is not only in the words, but also in the movement and voice modulations. Antigone is a very visual performance, so the visual images are stronger than the language.”
English-speaking theater-goers may prefer to see “The Lover,” Mar’s adaptation of the autobiographical novel by French author Marguerite Duras, which recounts the story of a love affair between a 15-year-old French girl and a 27-year-old Chinese man in 1930s Vietnam.
“It’s a beautifully written story of love, very intimate and sensual,” the actress says, “so I would like the audience to understand every word of the inner monologue of the character.”
It took Mar a long time to pluck up the courage to stage “The Lover,” she recalls. “This novel was my favorite for a long time,” she says. “I was tempted to stage it, but I couldn’t decide – it seemed that this was an impossible piece to move to the stage ... I resolved to try only after 10 years.
“It was a question for myself,” she continues. “Is it possible on stage to visualize such intimacy – the love and sexual experiences which are usually secret for us? The success of ‘Lover’ was an answer – that it’s possible. But every time I go on stage, I feel so fragile, nude.”
The actress arranged to come to Beirut after meeting Al-Madina’s president and founder Nidal al-Ashkar, who invited her to perform in Lebanon.
“I spent a few days in Lebanon 10 years ago,” the actress recalls. “I met such wonderful people here, and the country seemed so miraculous and close to my heart ... Another funny thing is that my name is quite difficult for foreigners to memorize, so when somebody asks my name I usually say: ‘My name is Birute – like Beirut.’ So I could say I am coming to my home.”