JOYCE MCMILLAN on DAMASCUS ALEPPO at Oran Mor, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 9.5.12.
3 stars ***
THERE’S NO DOUBTING the dramatic potential of this latest show in the Play, Pie and Pint lunchtime season inspired by events in the Arab world over the past year. Written by young Syrian dramatist Abdullah Alkafri, Damascus Aleppo is a family drama that offers a snapshot of a society caught in transition between tradition, modernity, and much darker kinds of authoritarian politics. Its hero Ayman is a psychiatrist in Damascus; his job involves treating homosexual men, trying to persuade them to abandon their self-hating attitudes.
Yet when he discovers that his own son Mohammed has an active gay life, he throws him out of the house, to the implacable rage of his wife Malak, once a high-powered career woman, now an embittered recluse who refuses to have anything to do with her husband. Mohammed disappears, somewhere between Damascus and Aleppo; Ayman makes what his wife suspects are half-hearted efforts to find him.
All of which would be fine, if the characters of Ayman and Malak amounted to much more than a set of soap-opera cliches, brought together to push the story along. As it is, though, Christopher Simon looks desperately uncomfortable in the role of Ayman, an actor of the wrong age in the wrong kind of suit; and Selina Boyack struggles to achieve more than the obvious as the furious Malak. The show has its moments of poetry, particularly when Ayman is in transit between the two cities, like a man in limbo. But towards the end, the play descends into some pretty thin domestic melodrama, as punches are thrown, and predictable insults exchanged; and thanks to the sketchiness of the characterisation, I was left with only a faint sense of the Syrian society that made these characters, and of the vital choices that society now faces, after a year of bloody conflict.