The Wilma Theater’s production of the show “Seuls,” which was written, directed and performed by Lebanese-Canadian artist Wajdi Mouawad, provides a powerful theatrical experience, a one-man show that explores the story of a man who is questioning his identity and place in the world.
Mouawad spent his early childhood in Lebanon, his adolescence in France and his young adult years in Quebec. His plays and novels have been translated into more than 20 languages and have traveled five continents. Mouawad is currently the director of La Colline – Le Théâtre National in Paris.
“Seuls” is a two-hour show performed in French with projected English titles. In the opening scene, we learn that the purpose of the show is to examine “our ability to live together and put up with our differences.” The character, Harwan, a 35-year old doctoral student, comes out to the sparse stage wearing only black underpants. Speaking slowly, he addresses the audience: “Who are we? And who do we think we are?”
Harwan is at a cross-roads in his life as he recently split up with his girlfriend, his father is in a coma, and he just can’t complete his 1,500-page doctoral dissertation on the playwright Robert Lepage. Scenic designer Emmanuel Clolus and video production designer Dominique Daviel produced masterful work that contribute immensely to the show’s visceral experience.
During the final 30 minutes of the show, we witness Harwan have a mental breakdown as we watch him fill the stage with paint, splattering it violently on himself and the set, creating a new kind of art without words. I found myself witnessing both the actor and the character he plays during this stunningly visual closing to a play that takes on the big philosophical questions — about identity, memory and self. “How do you say memory in Arabic?” Harwan asks in one lyrical sequence of questions.
“Seuls” is a powerful theatrical experience by an artist who has established himself, in Canada and in Europe, as a uniquely original player on the contemporary theater scene.
“Seuls” by Wajdi Mouawad has been running at the Wilma Theater in Philadelphia, 265 South Broad Street, from November 29 to December 11.