“The words are our breathing mask and there is always only one in the room, therefore we must speak in order to survive. Dialogue is crucial.” That was the advice that celebrated playwright Wajdi Mouawad gave to Israeli actress Darya Sheizaf and the other actors in Tous des oiseaux, a play that’s coming to Montreal’s Festival TransAmériques on May 22 and running until May 27.
Dialogue is at the heart of this story about two lovers – she an Arab, he an Israeli – who are “caught in the vortex of endless war,” as the press release states. Other actors, including Sheizaf playing an Israeli soldier, round out an international cast, in a play in which most of the characters are Jewish.
Mouawad, a Lebanese-Canadian, challenged himself with this production by allowing the characters speak in their native languages. While the work was written in French, not a word of French is spoken. The play was translated into a blend of English, German, Hebrew and Arabic (with surtitles in French).
Tous des oiseaux (which translates to All Birds) premiered in Paris in 2017 and has been staged in Tel Aviv and Belgium. After the Canadian run, the show will tour Madrid, Milan, Lisbon, Geneva and other European cities.
Speaking to The CJN from Israel, Sheizaf said the production fascinated her “because of the fact that Wajdi wrote the play little by little, based on conversations with us, the actors, and also all the technical creators, like the lighting and costume designers. It was therefore a ping-pong between Wajdi’s perception of our cultures and habits and our true input on it. A day before the premiere, we were still changing the last act.”
Acting as an Israeli soldier wasn’t too far-fetched for Sheizaf, even though she never served in the Israeli army.
Having been raised in Israel and seen most of her friends and family serve, she didn’t need to undertake too much research. “It is a big part of the identity of this country and we know a lot about it and prepare for the moment we will go for it since teenage years,” she said.
But she did have to learn more about the military division she would be part of in the play. “I found out that in order to be positioned in borders control, my character would have to be from a specific unit called Mishmar Hagvol. It’s a semi-independent unit who is connected to the Israeli police forces. I found out that most girls who wanted to be in combat units tend to go there,” she said.
Sheizaf went on to say that, “Throughout the play, my character experiences a revelation that first confuses her and then transforms her and makes her ask herself these questions that she never dared asking before.”
The play pointedly asks whether we are defined by our pasts. Sheizaf said it has been successful because “there is no judgment about one’s personal experience and it’s all about if finding your own identity is brought upon us externally, or whether we find it along the way by asking important questions.”
Mouawad is no stranger to Canadian theatre audiences. His most well-known work, Incendies, toured internationally and was adapted into a 2010 film by Denis Villenueve. Mouawad also served as the artistic director of Théâtre français at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa from 2007 to 2012.
Sheizaf admires how Mouawad’s work engages audiences, regardless of their knowledge of Middle East politics.
“I remember seeing teens stay after the show ended, in order to talk about the issues raised in the play, even if they weren’t very familiar with, say, wars in the region or the history of Israel,” she said.
Tous des oiseaux is on stage on May 22, 23 and 27 at 7 p.m., and May 25 and 26 at 2 p.m. at Place des Arts.
For tickets, call 514-844-3822, or visit placedesarts.com/en.