present but invisible :the performance of Rabih Mroue' Jan 21, 2012
by Mary Ann
Scanning the morning news, after experiencing Rabih Mroue's Looking for a missing employee, takes guts and perserverance. Any semblance of truth seems camouflaged and more compromised than usual. Rabih Mroue' is a master story teller who uses printed matter to, in this case, trace the disappearance of a Lebanese government employee. His obsessive collecting of newspaper clippings to find out what happened takes the audience down the rabbit hole of manipulated information, hierarchical "fact" finding and the deceptions orchestrated by the government to keep a story in limbo for questionable ends. You know it's going to end badly. And you don't have a cushion of distractions to soften the blow because simultaneously, Ghassan Halawani, a deft draftsman, is recording in colored graphs and gliphs and caricatures the trajectory of Mroue's story. All these components are witnessed through projections, including the performer whose stage presence is split between his actual location and his projected image. All facets of the performance...the construct of the staging elements, the unraveling of the details of the worker Sulieman's disappearance, the introduction of an additional plot line (money, money, money) and the barely discernable line between fact and fiction.......are used to emphasize that history, reconstructed, can in the retelling salvage the imprint and influence of one person's story on the larger society.
Rabih Mroue' doesn't mince words in his performance. He doesn't have to. He just carries the narrative along through documented reports. His method of mixing conversational chatter with straight forward accounts eases the audience into a state of suspended dis/belief. He's just talking to you, cajoling you into his world with puzzled expressions, off the cuff comments, sly grins and occasional giggles, frantic pinpointing of the absurdities while never abandoning that all this leads up to something that really happened and that irrevocably colored the integrity of one person't life. While the story is grounded in Lebanese culture, the critique of media discrepancies worldwide is inescapable. Goverment corruption is rampant. Lives are expendable. Censorship is the unwanted companion of chasing the truth. What we think is obvious in all this is not that the news is untrustworthy. What is obvious is that saying out loud there are daily injustices performed under our watch is the only way to stop them.
Looking for a missing employee was created in 2003, a parallel tale to the American invasion of Iraq. In light of current events in the Middle East the piece is even more poignant as a backdrop to the events surrounding the momentum of the Arab Spring. Not surprisingly Mroue' s newest work, The Pixillated Revolution, puts his keen eye on the uprisings that are reshaping the Arab world and the affects of social media in making that happen. We all shut off our devices before his performance, a perfect gesture for hearing what rarely is heard.....the sides of the story you think you understand have yet to be shared.