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Review: Lincoln Center Festival’s ‘While I Was Waiting’ Explores the Aftermath of Political Upheaval and Hope

While I Was Waiting

By Mercedes Vizcaino, Contributing Writer, July 26, 2017

Now in its 22nd year, The Lincoln Center Festival hosts a myriad of performances from around the globe. Making its North American debut at the festival, While I Was Waiting is a play based on a true story by the acclaimed duo of playwright Mohammad Al Attar and director Omar Abusaada, about a Syrian man who disappears and is eventually found after being brutally beaten by unknown attackers during a checkpoint stop in present-day Syria.

The play opens with the ghost or spirit of Taim (Mohammed Alrefai), observing his own comatose state. His condition serves as a metaphor for interpreting his family and girlfriend’s traumatic experiences with Syria’s political turmoil, and while uncertain, seemingly voicing the potential fate of all Syrians. Throughout the play, Taim communicates his thoughts directly to the audience, having no interaction with the other actors. Interestingly, the play is presented in Arabic with English supertitles displayed on a screen center stage. Reinforcing the playwright’s desire to make the story as authentic as possible, Syrian actors were engaged for the majority of the roles. At first it created a disjointed situation—asking audience members to read English translations quickly, while simultaneously paying close attention to the actors’ movements and conveyance of emotions as they spoke their lines. But the story was compelling enough to overlook this production convention.

Scene from 'While I Was Waiting;' photo: © Stavros Habakis.

Scene from ‘While I Was Waiting;’ photo: © Stavros Habakis.

Early on we learn about the magnitude of Taim’s estranged relationships through flashbacks of his father (deceased), mother, and sister, who returns to care for her brother after seeking refuge in Beirut. Taim wanted to capture the horrors endured by the people of the city of Damascus, under the nearly half-century of Assad regime, through filmed excerpts of protests, demonstrations-turned-violent, and old family photos. The family grapples with the contents of the film and whether it should be completed.

Director Omar Abusaada; courtesy of artist.

Director Omar Abusaada; courtesy of artist.

The playwright succeeds in shedding light on the daily violence, the displacement and refuge Syrians seek in bordering countries, and emphasizing the lack of solutions to the political complexities in the country, all while concurrently depicting the hopeful Syrian spirit in the midst of this chaos. It is a great play that has resonance with both ongoing global events, as well as with current political strife in the U.S.

For information on remaining performances of the Lincoln Center Festival click here.


While I Was Waiting presented as part of the Lincoln Center Festival at John Jay College, Gerald W. Lynch Theater, 899 10th Avenue, July 19-22, 2017. Running time: one hour and forty-five minutes with no intermission. Written by Mohammad Al Attar. Directed by Omar Abusaada; set design by Bissane Al Charif; lighting design by Abdulhameed Khaleifa; video design by Reem Al Ghazzi; original music by Samer Saem Eldahr (Hello Psychaleppo). Cast: Hanan Chkir, Mohammad Alrashi, Nanda Mohammad, Mohammad Alrefai, Reham Kassar and Mustafa Kur.


Cover: Scene from ‘While I Was Waiting;’ photo: © Didier Nadeau.


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