Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Story of "Project Christmas"

Project Christmas is a fun play presented by members of Dozan wa Awtar and local musicians. It is a story of a fictional chorus that is readying for a Christmas show. It's conductor, Karim, is getting anxious because the chorus wants a professional conductor to lead the way. They call Pierre Mashour, a famous Lebanese director, who has not been employed for three years. As an artist, he wants only calls from New York or Hollywood. When a Jordanian-based group calls, he flinches and resists directing the show, but Lola, his long-time assistant, persuades him to take the job. The problem is, it is only one week before Christmas.

The show opens with an exotic, space-aged nativity scene with weird music and unusual costumes worn by lip-synced singers. Pierre and Lola are happy with the strange get-up, by when a near-sighted lamb falls off the stage, he calls a halt to the performance. Just at that point, Karim takes us back in time one week earlier when the whole drama begins to unfold.

We see Karim contacting Lola to hire Pierre in his studios in Beirut. She pleads with him to travel to Jordan by singing, "Let us go," a parody of "Let it snow."

As the chorus, Aswat wa Alhan, begins to rehearse, it is clear they need some direction.  They sing, "We Wish you a Merry Christmas," "Rudolph," and "Riu, Riu, Chiu," a 15th century Spanish Christmas song for protection.

We meet Inaam, an old woman, who still dreams of her solo career, and her friend Absi, who is a scrooge. Rani is lovestruck over Tina who only has eyes for Pierre Mashour, but Samia longs for Rani, who never notices her. Mazen has a bit of an edge against Pierre, who cannot remember his name. Nada loves Karim, but she is reluctant to tell him. Zeina is so sad because she has not heard from her husband in Syria for a long time. Paul, this mysterious misfit, shows up an opportune times.

Lola enjoys the chorus's rendition of "Msha Msha Noura" and Pierre is thrilled with their potential as they sing, "Radu Shiti."

Zeina and Nada share an intimate moment while Paul and Mazen are rehearsing their parts for "I'll be Home for Christmas." At the close, Paul calls Amir, a friend, who agrees to do a favor for him. He will find a way to locate Zeina's husband.

At first, the group is star-struck with Pierre, but things begin to unravel once he makes them express their emotions. He talks about his affection for Fifi, his pet goat, and the chorus gets fed-up. He insults Tina who runs away in tears with Rani chasing her and Samia chasing Rani. Zeina is so sad because she cannot think of anything but her husband's silence. Inaam and Absi are feeling left out and dismissed and they long for respect and recognition as they sing a parody of Adele's song. Nada notices that Karim isn't acting well and she asks if he is feeling O.K. Karim shrugs it off. Paul just observes.

Rani and Samia cheer up Tina who was insulted by Pierre, and the depth of their love triangle becomes known in "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Paul's mysterious words cause the chorus to question his origins.

The first act ends after a confrontation between Mazen and Pierre because the chorus is wearing space age suits that has nothing to do with the Christmas nativity scene. Everything falls apart even though Lola tries to hold it together. We are transported in time back to scene one where the space age nativity lip-synching is performed, but tensions are high. Pierre quits and Karim throws him out. Karim collapses with a heart-attack.

Act Two opens with the chorus lamenting Karim's heart attack and the expected cancellation of the show as the cast holds vigil in darkness for the stricken Karim.

The scene is transported to the great Arabian desert in Jordan where an American woman married to Fadi, an Arab engineer, are celebrating their 15th wedding anniversary. They encounter Lola and Pierre as they are trying to contemplate what went wrong and what to do next. Lola, who is continually disrespected by Pierre, quits and leaves him stranded in the desert after singing, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Pierre."

The chorus assembles in disbelief not knowing what to do. They sing "Carol of the Bells" in great worry for Karim's condition until Nada breaks the news that he is O.K., but needs bed rest, meaning he will miss the show. The chorus, which still does not believe in itself, decides the cancel the show before the silent Paul speaks up and tells them that "This is Christmas" and that they still have a show to perform if they only do the carols their own way. What they do is sing and they bring joy and a message of hope and salvation to their audiences. Lola enters, announces she has quit Pierre, and she declares she wants to be part of the group. The reluctant group begins to come around until they finally decide to sing carols their own way. They ask Lola to direct them and she agrees. In joy, they sing "African Noelle" as they prepare their rehearsal space for their performance.

Out of the blue, Zeina gets a phone call from an unidentified number and Paul and Nada observe. Nada greets Zeina and they embrace in relief and joy. Nada lost her husband years ago and understands Zeina's grief. Paul looms as the orchestrator of the event.

As Paul looks on, Karim appears. Paul welcomes him back and he fixes things so that he and Nada begin to express their love for one another. Paul rests comfortably knowing that he has engineered much goodwill.

Pierre has a conversion of heart and decides to visit Karim to offer an apology. Inaam, the old woman, Karim's mother, listens in. Karim and Pierre reconcile, and then Pierre tells Inaam that she has terrific talent and deserves stage recognition. It melts her heart. Pierre, Inaan, and Karim sing "Believe" because they see the power of goodness working through their lives.

The chorus is then busy in the rehearsal space when Pierre enters. He asks to speak to Lola to apologize. He wants to reconcile with her. He agrees to sing with the group. Mazen and Pierre reconcile, and then Paul asks Pierre to join the group by wearing a santa costume.

As they all gather, a radiant Christmas tree is lowered from the ceiling magically. All gather round to witness the magic of Christmas and then the longed-for concert begins by singing a proper version of "God rest ye merry, Gentlemen," followed by "Radu Shiti," then "Jingle Bells," with "Joy to the World (first verse in Arabic)" in conclusion. The show goes on and Christmas is wonderful.

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