Theater: “The Vagrant Trilogy” (corrected version) @ the Public
Does anyone remember “Sliding Doors,” the 1998 film starring Gwyneth Paltrow? She plays a London executive who has just been sacked and runs to catch a train. In one setup, she makes it inside just before the doors close; in the second setup, she misses the train. Her life takes two completely different directions, and the film explores both.
In “The Vagrant Trilogy,” Mona Mansour’s spectacular new play now in previews at the Public, a similar scenario occurs, only on a deeper, grander, more emotional scale. It also takes place in London—as well as the Middle East.
The time is Spring, 1967. Adham (Hadi Tabbal from “English” @ the Atlantic) is a young Palestinian scholar who is invited to London to deliver a paper on a William Wordsworth poem. He takes along his young bride Abir (Tala Ashe, also from “English”) and is a smash success. The Six-Day war suddenly breaks out so the university dons invite him to stay on, by offering him a fellowship. Abir however demands to go home immediately to be with family. Hence the crisis Adham faces: should I stay or should I return?
The next act takes place 15 years later in 1982. It explores his decision to part with his wife, stay in the UK and remain in academia. There, he lives a life of the mind and tussles with his students—as the country faces a spate of IRA bombings.
The final act, set in 2003, explores an alternate reality: what would happen if he had returned to the Middle East with his wife. It is a dystopian portrait of Adham’s life spent in a refugee camp in Lebanon with his extended family.
So what does “vagrant” have to do with all this? Turns out it’s a reference to Wordsworth’s poem about his exile in France—and his feeling of stateless-ness. This is an obvious metaphor of Adham’s own situation as a man without a country.
The ensemble consists of six versatile actors who play a total of 41 different roles over the course of the evening. And the writing! It’s on par with the level of quality you used to find in plays from the West End like Alan Bennett’s “History Boys.”
Just a heads up: TVT is three-and-a-half hours long. So it’s not for everybody. Nor will its politics be everyone’s cup of tea. But in
his 1936 essay “The Crack-Up,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” If you can approach this show with an open mind, just see it. You’re welcome.