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Theatre Journal 53.2 (2001) 342-343
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Dumrul and Azrael
Dumrul and Azrael.By Murathan Mungan. 12th International Istanbul Theatre Festival, Istanbul, Turkey. 4 June 2000.
A new play by the celebrated Turkish writer Murathan Mungan, his own adaptation of an unpublished short story, became one of the most captivating plays shown in Istanbul at the annual International Festival late last spring. The play, Dumrul and Azrael, directed by Mustafa Avkiran at Istanbul's 5th Street Theatre as a joint production of the Festival and the Hebbel Theatre in Berlin, succeeded in competing with such Festival offerings as Medea, directed by DimitrisPapaioannou for the Adafos Dance Theatre;Robert Wilson's The Days Before, with Isabella Rossellini as a Narrator; Masurca Fogo by Pina Bausch; Hanna Schygulla's evening of Brechtian songs; and a vividly exhilarating local production of The Cherry Orchard, rewritten in Black Sea dialect by Ferhan Sensoy for his privately owned theatre, Ortaoyuncular.
Mungan has been a renowned fiction writer for some twenty years. His most outstanding work for the theatre, Mesopotamian Trilogy, was conceived intermittently between 1980 and 1999. Its first part, Mahmut and Yezida, performed initially by amateur groups and college theatres, had its professional premiere in 1993 at the Ankara State Theatre. The second part, Tazije, premiered after its early appearance in 1984 at the Ankara Sanat Theatre, and was later followed by the staging of the third play, Deers' Curse in 1992. The dramatic trilogy was published in 1993, and in 1994 all three plays were produced at the Antalya State Theatre and at the International Istanbul Festival in a more than ten hour long performance. As in his Mesopotamian Trilogy, Mungan's new play exemplifies another mode of exploring the mythical past. Here Mungan sculpts traditional storytelling into an enhanced poetic fable rooted in shamanic rituals and Anatolian mysteries.
The story of Dumrul and Azrael,retold by Mungan in his adaptation, originated in legends of the Oghuz tribes, early Turkish peoples of Anatolia and Syria. This Anatolian myth echoes the Greek myth of Alcestis and Admetus known through Euripides' play. It is an old story about searching for a person that would sacrifice their life for the sake of someone approaching death. In the original story, Dumrul, like Admetus in the Greek version, finds his rescuer in his beloved wife. Mungan's adaptation makes the story bolder and aesthetically more appealing. Here, Azrael, the Angel of Death, after walking with Dumrul from the gate of his mother, to his father, and his wife, and seeing [End Page 342] how Dumrul gains understanding through these meetings and the denials of his loved ones, sacrifices his own immortality for Dumrul's life. Dumrul is a proud and tempestuous bridge builder unafraid to wrestle with Azrael for the sake of a young man who died at his bridge; while Azrael is the rigid and ruthless messenger of Allah, who softens at witnessing Dumrul's human struggle for justice.
Mustafa Avkiran, who also directed Mungan's Mesopotamian Trilogy, chose an effective way to perform Dumrul and Azrael in a style that borrows from both nomadic wandering and the repetitive gestures and incantations of shamanism. Five actors, two women and three men, interchangeably perform the play's five characters (Dumrul, Azrael, Mother, Father, and Lover), as well as the parts of a Narrator and Chorus. Each of them speaks and embodies the various characters while as the Narrator they objectively comment on the nature of the characters. Their voices are clearly distinct, but the actors look like multiplied versions of one person. They all wear the same long burgundy dresses (women) or long skirts (men) which can be easily tucked into a belt and made into trousers. During the performance, the actors each stand on one of five ring-like red woven mats, responding through cyclical movements to the unceasing tune of a drum. There are also several ancient Persian and African instruments used in the course of the play, and the rich vocal performances (especially of Ovul Avkiran) add to the production's spiritual tone. The action intensifies only at...