Inphisamia: A cure for what ails you
The interactive play asks – and answers – what’s wrong with Lebanese society
BEIRUT: Roger Ghanem’s interactive new play “Inphisamia,” now up at Mar Mikhael’s Back Door Theater, is as entertaining as it is enigmatic.
The play’s plot is ill-defined beyond its basic premise. After 40 years in quarantine, a hospital lab has reopened in order to dispense Inphisamia – a medicine that’s supposed to heal the several pathologies of modern Lebanon.
In Lebanese Arabic, “inphisamia” is an expression connoting psychological ambivalence, our tendency to vacillate in a condition of uncertainty – in matters of opinion, for instance – to swerve between highs and lows, ecstasy and despair, to hesitate in love or to overcommit.
That should be the first clue that isn’t offering a panacea but a diagnosis. It might be the players’ way of suggesting that the diagnosis is itself a cure.
In a series of discordant acts, the play sees the cast invite the audience not simply to absorb the quintessential Lebanese cliche – Inphisamia – as our culture encourages us to do, but to reflect on it and recognize each other beneath.
What plot there is is quickly lost, however, and in a most sincere and amusing way. Hospitals are themselves ambivalent spaces – on one hand, formal and sterile and on the other, physically and emotionally intimate. As characters veer from patients to talk-show hosts, from businessmen to suitors, doctors and jesters, the intensity softens, blurring the line between livelihood and life, individuality and community.
The interactive component of Ghanem’s play is subtle. The cast guides its audience into the theater to sit in a relaxed, cafe-like space, complete with a bar.
A few audience members will be asked some simple questions: “What do you like about your date?” for instance. And fewer still are invited to sit on the edge of the stage.
For the audience of “Inphisamia,” existence is itself participation in the play. It is a testament to the cast’s skill and grace that apprehensive guests are soon made to relax, lean into their dates and laugh as the play gets underway.
The whole cast is first rate, both in their commitment and seamless improvisation. They fill the space yet do not crowd it – a concern for interactive theater.
Special mention must be made of the magnetic Stephanie Atala and terrific Elie Bassila, who feature in the play’s longest act, in which the players pose riddles to the audience. Why, for instance, does food smell good outside the body but awful inside it?
It might seem pedestrian to liken this play to a late-night talk show, but that would cheapen its engagement and humor. “Inphisamia” is reflective, satirical and intimate. It is a Monday evening well spent.
Ghanem told The Daily Star he could extend the play’s run. Let’s hope so.
Hospitals are at once formal and intimate spaces.
Call for a prescription for “Inphisamia.”