Wajdi Mouawad | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Wajdi Mouawad

Wajdi Mouawad's family left civil war in Lebanon behind when they moved to France in 1977 and finally immigrated to Montréal in 1983, where Mouawad entered the French section of the National Theatre School and graduated in 1991.

Wajdi Mouawad

 Wajdi Mouawad, actor, director, translator, playwright (b at Deir el Kamar, Lebanon 16 Oct 1968). Wajdi Mouawad is a rarity in theatre because of his multiple talents and ability to appeal to different generations and cultures. He writes in French, but his plays transcend specificities of language to stimulate the mind and touch the heart. He is a multicultural playwright and director whose theatre work is recognized for its moral impulse.

Wajdi Mouawad's family left civil war in Lebanon behind when they moved to France in 1977 and finally immigrated to Montréal in 1983, where Mouawad entered the French section of the National Theatre School and graduated in 1991. He co-founded Theatre O Parleur in 1990 with Isabelle Leblanc, staging a "walking" production of Macbeth in Old Montréal. He appeared in Albert Camus's Caligula and in his own Governor General Award-nominated play Alphonse; here a young boy disappears in the countryside, inventing adventures for a character he imagines, while his family, friends and police search anxiously for him.

Wajdi Mouawad won le Grand Prix de la Critique from the Association québécoise des critiques de théâtre for Willy Protagoras enfermé dans les toilettes, his first play, about an adolescent who locks himself in a washroom to escape the mad tensions of the adult world. With virtually Rabelaisian humour, the play is a metaphor for guerilla civil revolt. One of the principal aims of Theatre O Parleur was to promote the value of language, and by the time his tenure ended in 1994, Mouawad's reputation as playwright, director, and producer was growing quickly.

In 1999 his adaptation of Don Quichotte was nominated for a Masque by l'Académie québécoise du théâtre. His Wedding Day at the Cro-Magnons (Journée de noces chez les Cromagnons), a striking story of life struggling to continue in the middle of the carnage in a war-torn city, earned mixed reviews. In 2000 he won the GOVERNOR GENERAL'S AWARD for Littoral (Tideline), the first part of an intended tetralogy that has continued with Incendies (Scorched), which won a Governor General's Award in 2002, and Forêts (Forests). Littoral is the story of a young man in Montréal who decides to bury his father in a war-torn, corpse-strewn foreign land. The play is clear evidence of Mouawad's preoccupation with bearing witness to contemporary history.

Incendies tells of a twin brother and sister from Montréal whose dead mother's will requests they return to her Middle Eastern birthplace to find their missing father, whom they have never met, and a brother they never knew about. It is a story about origins - their mystery and burden - but it is also about childhood, family history, civil war, justice, solitude, and the reparation of trauma by breaking silence. Intellectually stimulating, politically relevant, and poignantly poetic, the play describes a world with a vulpine, voracious appetite for destroying the vulnerable.

Forêts reinforces a common pattern of a quest for ancestors. Four hours in length, this work has 17 characters but manages to be intimate while acquiring some of the qualities of an epic as Loup, a rebellious teenager, collaborates with a palaeontologist to journey into the history of her female ancestors. Beginning as a family drama, the play becomes a journey into darkness, encompassing places and time frames from the Franco-Prussian War to the two world wars of the 20th century.

Strong in narrative structure and poetic intensity, Wajdi Mouawad's plays have been translated into many languages and have played at numerous national and international venues, ranging from the Festival de Théâtre des Amériques in Montréal to Limoges and the Avignon Festival in France, the NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE in Ottawa, and theatres in Québec City, Toronto and Vancouver. These plays are also more moving in terms of visceral impact - possibly because their intense dramatic situations relate to universally inescapable human consequences.

Wajdi Mouawad is also adept at directing, translating and acting. As a director, he has staged classics by Shakespeare, Sophocles, Euripides, Pirandello, Wedekind and Chekhov and contemporary pieces by playwrights such as Jason SHERMAN and Ahmed Ghazali. He published a novel, Visage retrouvé (2002), and with Québec director André BRASSARD a book of interviews (Je suis le méchant, 2004). He directed his own film adaptation of Littoral in 2004.

From 2000 to 2004 he served as artistic director of the important alternative theatre, Théâtre de Quat' Sous, in Montréal. In 2005 he started two companies devoted to new plays: the Abé carré cé carré in Montréal (in collaboration with Emmanuel Schwartz) and the Au Carré de l'hypoténuse in Paris.

In 2002 he was appointed Chevalier de l'Ordre National des Arts et des Lettres in France; in 2004 he was awarded the Prix de la Francophonie. In 2005 he declined France's prestigious Molière Award to protest what he saw as the indifference of French theatre directors to contemporary playwrights. That year he was a finalist for Canada's largest annual theatre award, the Siminovitch Prize in playwriting. He was honoured as "Artiste de la paix de l'année 2006" by the Quebec organization Les Artistes pour la paix, and was selected in 2008 by the organizers of the prestigious Festival d'Avignon to be "Artiste associeé" of the 2009 edition.

In 2008 he became artistic director of the French theatre section at the National Arts Centre.