Rabih Mroue's "Looking for a missing employee" Jan 21, 2012

by Mary

Looking for a missing employee, Rabih Mroué’s awarding winning performance/theater takes the audience into a different dimension. The experience alters the idea of traditional theater. The charisma of the detective pulls you into the maze of the world of the “missing”. Deconstructing and constructing truths/untruths tracked with the layers of articles collected about “the missing employee”.

Rabih Mroué, performed by Mroué himself, a detective/storyteller humorously discloses assorted clues into the 1996 disappearance of Raafat Suleiman, a civil servant of the Ministry of Finance in Lebanon. We are lead through the layers of information collected; newspaper clipping, found objects, photocopies and video mirrored by a live illustrator drawing the timeline as the “detective” uncovers the clues. The audience follows facts, misconceptions and cover-ups with the backdrop of the politics of the Lebanese Civil War, looming.

We now find ourselves on this detective’s journey to piece together the clues to Raafat Suleiman’s disappearance with the information at hand. The audience is blended into this physical theater, this visual theater. The appearance and disappearance of Mroué at the beginning of the performance replaces the body of the actor with the visuals of three screens. The audience directs their attention to the introduction of the character the “detective” on screen as he follows the “fine hair” of clues that try to solve the mystery of “the missing employee.” It is not necessary to have knowledge of the history of Lebanon to follow this experience of what happens when one goes missing, it is a human experience.

Questions are stirred up around the history, politics and personal tragedy of the disappearance of Suleiman. Mroué successfully engages
discussions on many levels, ideas of what is theater; do we need to see the actor on stage? Is the artist saying that to fully appreciate the
story the audience should not be distracted by the physical presence of an actor? Do visuals replace an actor from the narrative?
The viewer again is removed from the experience of the actor telling the story by projecting the camera on himself and then on to a screen.
The use of an illustrator rendering the timeline, the names of potential witnesses, the stolen money amounts that are constantly changing,
and other details that form part of the fabric of this mystery. Set up like an investigation investigating how we look at narrative by physically
being present, then by video or TV, then by clippings from newspaper and found objects. What’s real, do we loose information when the
information is once, twice, three times removed? Is the message that we deactivate ourselves by feeding on “live” TV or are we more
comfortable viewing a screen then a live person? What happens when we have both?

The clandestine look into gov’t and then the actual removal of the artist himself. In the Arab countries how is information received? Are we falling into the holes and disappearing with massive amounts of information so the real truth is not revealed? Is this only true with what we don’t understand from this culture? Or was this just a way to explore all the clues to the final sad ending of Suleimans body found in pieces, detached.

As we leave the stage the audience is under surveillance by “the detective”, once again asking the question, what is real? Winner of the 2010 Spaulding Grey award this work is timely and important work for theater, fun and thought provoking.