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New-fangled actors show off their chops in 'Bare Feet'.

Summary: The stage is bare, save for a few essentials that give the impression of domestic life -- a couch, table, telephone, typewriter and a standalone door.

BEIRUT: The stage is bare, save for a few essentials that give the impression of domestic life -- a couch, table, telephone, typewriter and a standalone door. A demure lighting design casts the set in cool blue hues.

It is night, and someone is knocking on the door.Felix (first-time actor Maroon Assaf) is awakened and walks cautiously onto the stage, while a whispering voice beckons him to open the door.

Assaf's movement is a bit too relaxed for a stage performer, but his genuine delivery almost compensates for his lack of liveliness. His character wonders whether he ought to open the door. This intricate thought process would have been more stirring if Assaf had been facing the audience, but the subtle tentativeness of his hands as he reaches for the door is sufficient.

The cool nighttime hues unexpectedly brighten to the warm yellows of indoor fluorescence. Light and mood shift since Felix opens the door to the angry Doris (Christine Bouzeid), who thrashes him with a purse. Theatre Monnot's full house guffaws explosively.

So begins this scene from Bill Manhoff's play "The Owl and the Pussycat," which is also the opening scene of Jacques Maroun's "Al-Akdam al-Hafiya" (Bare Feet). A selection of scenes from contemporary theater adapted from English to Lebanese Arabic, the work was performed by graduates of Maroun's actors' workshop.

Among the highlights of the evening was the sublime partnership of actors Jana Diab and Caroline Labaki in "Anna and August" by Don Zolidis. Anna (Diab) is a hyper-intelligent girl who has trouble meeting boys, until she meets August -- here "Hayla." Labaki brilliantly contrasts Diab's overexcited manner with a calm sensibility, providing many moments of comic relief.

The show's accompaniment was provided by the oud of musicology student Jihad Hajj, which complemented the work's minimalist staging, and was key to ensuring that the transitions between scenes remained smooth -- despite the presence of stage technicians rearranging furniture.

The show included three monologues. Based on Oscar Wilde's "A Woman of No Importance," the poignant "Al-Rejjel al-Mithali" was performed by Betty Abi Khalil, whose delivery was marked by seamless variety and honesty. Her body language was precise, reflecting each delicate change in thought and intention.

"Love Story, Comme La Chanson" between the solemn Alex (Kelly Bardawil) and the excitable Jessy (Kim Kehdy) was an interesting way to conclude Maroun's show. Bardawil was a bit inaudible at first but she stepped up to the demands of her character -- who must shout, "But you're 16 years old!" when Jessy reveals that she is getting married to the "love of her life."

The scene is sweet, if a bit too reminiscent of "High School Musical."

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Dec 3, 2011
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