For Sense and Trancendance

The Theatre or Wajdi Mouawad

Written by Paul Lefebvre, translated by Ken McDonough

The Montreal Francophone theatre season will have been marked by the exceptional personality of playwright, director, and actor Wajdi Mouawad, whose work, discovered this year by the general public, is reaching maturity. Last spring, Ufforol, which he wrote, directed, and produced, was presented as part of the Festival de Théâtre des Amériques. In January, he directed Trainspotting at Theatre de Quat’Sous and Sophocle’s Oedipus Roi (Oedipus Rex) at Theatre Denise Pelletier. In March, Theatre du Nouveau Monde staged his adaptation of Cervantes’ Don Quichotte. Finally, in May, he produced and directed his very first play, Willy Protagoras enfermé dans les toilettes, which he wrote while still a student. Not only were these plays acclaimed by audiences and critics alike, but their success underlined a new trend: this brand of theatre, which is highly entertaining yet the opposite extreme of entertainment, showed that audiences are eager for plays where the word plays a central role.

Wajdi Mouawad was born in Lebanon in 1968. When he was eight, he and his family fled the war, taking refuge in France. He moved to Montreal at the age of 14 and graduated from the National Theatre School’s acting program in 1991. His first play, Willy Protagoras enfermé dans les toilettes, tells the story of a teenager who, through a radical gesture, tries to end the Homeric struggle between two families for possession of an apartment.

The first of his plays to be staged was Partie de cache-cache entre 2 Tchécoslovaques au début du
, a fictional biography of Kafka. This was followed by Journée de noces chez les Cromagnons (1993), the story of a family that organizes a narcoleptic daughter’s wedding. In spite of there being no fiancée the spectator accesses meaning through the integration of the various facets of a discourse.

The theatre of Wajdi Mouawad, with its underlying quest for transcendence, arranges itself very clearly on the side of meaning. It attempts to propose an alternative to intelligent irony and the deconstruction of speech. What the playwright René-Daniel Dubois calls “militant nihilism.” This search for meaning is what the growing audience of Wajdi Mouawad is sensitive to. Yet, it is a dramaturgy that does not impose anything and is never manipulative.

The presentation of Willy Protagoras enfermé dans les toilettes, by Wajdi Mouawad’s own admission, signals the end of a first cycle. This cycle was based on refusal and, more specifically, the refusal to win at all costs.

Mouawad’s theatre is centered around characters who, by losing, win. His plays, by proposing this new paradigm, as opposed to the credo of neo-liberalism, are attracting audiences happy to (re)discover a demanding form of theatre that doesn’t just entertain, but also makes us think.

At the time of print, Paul Lefebvre was a director and translator. He taught at the National Theatre School and was the Denise Pelletier Director of Literature and Theatre.