On Plays Performed by Ankara State Theatre/I 2011-2012


            Aridity, drought, thirst, strife, sand, heat, suffering, massacre are such notions the title of the play Kerbela brings to my mind. The writer of the play is Ali Berktay. Ayşe Emel Mesci assumes the title of director. The play is – I think – a reworking of historical events and thus covers a long period. The play has elements similar to the Ancient Greet tragedies. We have chorus and a chorus leader in the play. Therefore there are many actors in the play and I would like to point out the key actresses and actors. In the order of appearance we see Rengin Samurçay as the Chorus Leader, Alpay Ulusoy as Imam Hasan, Erdinç Gülener as Imam Huseyin, Serdar Kayaokay as Abbas, Nihat Hakan Güney as Muaviye, and Cüneyt Arif Soysalan as Yezid. I saw the play in “Büyük Tiyatro;” the date of the performance was 04.24.2012 Tuseday. The auditorium is large and has a balcony and loges. The seats are right in front of the stage and they do not have a horse shoe shape but a sickle shape. However the shape is not a full sickle; it is like both ends of the sickle are cut off and the middle part remains. There is the place for the orchestra between the seats and the stage; they are covered by a small wall and they are seated lower than the audience. The auditorium is old and a big chandelier attracted my attention. It was inclined on one side and I guess it must have drove people with symmetrical fixations mad. The walls and the ceiling were embellished with many patterns and it gave a traditional look to the hall. The lobby is separated from the hall and I found it empty and because it was constructed with marbles I felt dull inside the lobby. There was no music and the only sound was the murmurs of the waiting audience. In the middle of the stage there was a circle within another circle; the inner circle was higher like a stair step. On the far back there was a curtain which images were projected on. Before the beginning there was an image of the Milky Way galaxy and after the play begun, it changed to an animation of a cloudy sky during sun set. The actors and actresses entered and exited the stage from the sides to the back.
            One detail which made me feel content was the announcement of the beginning of the play, which was given by bell sounds from the speakers mounted on the walls. I would like to add that the most disappointing thing was the utilization of speakers and microphones. I think there are many people who are distracted or disturbed by the metallic sound of the microphone. The chorus leader gave her speech with a microphone and although she had a sonorous voice, the metallic tones ruined it all. I didn’t do the math but the play is approximately three hours long and I strongly believe that some parts can be omitted. In the play Imam Huseyin hears poet Fuzuli’s voice (an old wise looking man with deep charismatic voice). Although we see Fuzuli on a wheel chair moved by a person in dark clothes, Huseyin cannot see him, but Fuzuli talks to him and his words give him strength and patience in one of his hardest times during the siege of Yezid’s forces. I am not hundred percent sure but Fuzuli lived many decades after the events in Kerbela and I cannot offer a reason why Imam Huseyin and Fuzuli’s scene was there on the stage. I think the idea behind their conversation is that Huseyin was made a hero and that he was able to communicate with this spiritual person. Therefore as it is common to the characteristics of heroes, Huseyin became the chosen one or the favoured one. In many other stories we see heroes, in one way or another, communicate with beings that common people cannot. This is what separates heroes from the common people actually. I liked the scene when Muaviye passes all his political authority to his son. All the characters there including Yezid are depicted as shallow and minion like jesters. I didn’t like their reactions because they were very childish and ruined the solemnity of the play. There was even a monkey who mocked Muaviye. Although I found this scene very childish it actually gave messages. It gave messages like everyone dies and nobody can take what is earned to the afterlife. I like the massage that power, whether physical or political or social, is temporary. It also gave the message that how new generations lack ambitions and wisdom to rule a country. Yezid and his court was shown as corrupted and tyrannical with no regard to the pitiful state of the society or to the religious righteousness and humility.
            The hall was full and the majority of the audience was young primary school students. There were high school students as well but not many. I reckon they were prompted to watch and do homework about the play by their instructors, because the parents sat next to me were advising their daughter to take notes. I was seated on the balcony and I think most of the elder audience was very interested in the play, but I also see some people getting bored. One young fellow leaned forward and rested his head on the empty seat in front of him and stood like that for more than twenty minutes. During the scenes where lamenting for the dead are performed I think people are emotionally moved. Also there was the massacre scene towards the end, which made me very sad.
            The play starts with the passing of Ali bin Ebu Talib and Muaviye’s succession to become the caliph. Then the play develops towards the end of Muaviye’s reign and Ali’s son Huseyin’s journey to the city Kufe. Huseyin and his followers are killed during this journey because Huseyin was a threat to the Yezid’s reign after Muaviye’s.
            The author of the play Ali Berktay after graduating from Galatasaray High School worked as assistant, lighting technician, transtator, and actor abroad in Sweden and France. Director Ayşe Emel Mesçi who took acting lessons in Istanbul Municipal Conservatory imprisoned for 3,5 years during March 12th period.
            Kerbela is a tragic play and the mood throughout the play is depressing, however there are comic scenes as well. Because the common people suffer under repressive authority, the mood is not cheerful. During the massacre of Huseyin and his followers we see people depicted as “good” suffer and die; most of the time the mood is sorrowful and bitter because unwanted things happen. During the scenes where common people talk and soldiers discuss their ideas about the events, we are offered a relief with the usage of vulgar and everyday life language. Additionally with storytelling the play also makes us smile and even laugh. I think the major theme of the play is religion abuse. Leaders like Yezid abuse the power of religion to control masses; with tyranny he even further gives the order to exterminate a descendant of the prophet Muhammed. Although Yezid gives Huseyin a “chance” to live his terms are not agreeable to Huseyin. There are other themes such as faith, brotherhood, sisterhood which develop even stronger among the oppressed people. We see heroism on Huseyin’s part. There are people who follow and believe in his decisions. They support him till the end. The play was a reworking of historical events and there were surrealistic and spiritual styles. As Huseyin hears Fuzuli we see spiritual or divine intervention. One surreal element in the play was a tree representing the common people. The tree was consisted of three actors who inclined towards Huseyin’s position on the stage. As Huseyin moved the tree changed its branches direction towards Huseyin and always followed him. The tree also represented hope, which was another theme in the play.
The tree became dry and weak just like the state of the common people, oppressed and in poverty. There were various decors, mobile platforms and platforms that ascended and descended. In the background the play utilized various curtains to effectively depict various settings. The chorus sometimes carried a desert tent to show us Huseyin’s journey. Also while depicting the suffering of Huseyin’s followers, because of thirst for water, they used yellow coloured long curtain to depict the arid desert landscape. Muaviye’s court was also a mobile décor and was big enough that people could get on it and act on the platform. The lights have a significant role in creating various settings. We saw day and night cycle by changing lights. During the battle scenes and hot desert scenes the lights were too bright. They were so bright even the audience had to cover their eyes (I had to cover mine too); just like one would do under the sun in a desert. The play had many poems and songs in it. The chorus sang songs and the orchestra accompanied them with various instruments from violin to flute and drums to reed. The part I would like to criticise again is the usage of microphones; they ruined chorus leader’s lines. Additionally the chorus lacked coordination and unity. What I want to say is that it was as if some of the members couldn’t follow the other members and they end up yelling inarticulate words. The costumes were well selected and with the aid of make up and wigs and false beards the play successfully depicted the characters.

Ahmet Can Vargün, ELIT II

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