JEDDAH: Italian Language Week came to a close with an unforgettable, specially adapted performance of the play “Head over Heels in Saudi Arabia” at the Italian Cultural Club on Tuesday.
The monologue, written by and starring Dr. Maisah Sobaihi, a Saudi academic, playwright and performer who gives a contemporary voice to Arab women, tells the story of the complicated love lives of local women in an amusing and captivating way.
The evening began with a speech by the Consul General of Italy in Jeddah, Elisabetta Martini, to welcome the audience and introduce Sobaihi. The play was performed in English, with some Saudi cultural sayings, but was given an Italian twist for the occasion with the addition of some Italian words and phrases, which helped to make the whole audience feel connected to the story.
Marriage is a hot topic in Saudi Arabia and Sobaihi explored some of the complicated real-life situations that occur in the lives of married Saudi women. Even though the play is told from a female perspective, however, it is also a real eye-opener for men.
“These issues come up in every society,” Sobaihi told Arab News. “They are universal issues. It’s something we have to talk about and explore and then society comes together to provide different solutions.”
In a question-and-answer session after the play, Sobaihi expressed her pride in being a representative of, and voice for, modern Arab women.
“I’m always honored and happy to represent Arab women or to be a contemporary voice but I’m not sure exactly what that means,” she said. “What I can say is that I am an Arab woman and I have experiences that I’d like to share with the world, and sometimes I choose experiences from the Arab World. These experiences that I’ve shared with you here are particularly about Saudi women, so I choose experiences that are contemporary and I hope those voices come across.”
The audience certainly seemed to enjoy the performance and identify with the themes.
“I think she’s very talented,” said Saudi writer Ghada Aboud, author of the recently published novel “Bipolar.” “It’s extremely difficult to pull off an act such as this that depends on only one actress: the change of characters and how she was very capable of making the audience really connect with different controversial situations and really empathize and sympathize with the two different characters.”
Audience member Layal Turk said: “I loved it so much because it is purely talking about the situation in Saudi Arabia, especially from the women’s side. It was strange in the beginning because it is a one-women show butafter that I loved it. She’s really smart and a real artist.”
Consul General Martini said that blending cultures in such a theatrical way as Sobaihi had done was perfect for Italian Language Week.
“We really want to show how our cultures are similar,” she said. “Our cultures are similar in terms of content, but also when she was dropping some Italian words people could feel the meaning now. It was not like saying some words in a completely different language —she was keeping the attitude, even when speaking in Italian, so I really wanted to show that this, a theater performance performed in English and in Arabic, could even have Italian words and not lose the meaning. That was my main aim.
“Dr. Maisah is a great performer. She’s someone who can really speak to the heart of the people. and this Italian Language Week is dedicated to ‘networks.’ During the first part of the week, we discussed how the internet has changed our language, and in the case of Dr. Maisah we wanted to show how personal networks really can have an impact on the evolution of the language and the evolution of expression, how you express yourself.
“So we wanted to develop this Italian Language Week into two parts: how the internet and how personal networks can really make a language evolve.”