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Play on homosexuality steals show in Beirut

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india Updated: Apr 25, 2006 17:57 IST

The audience gasped in awe and then broke into applause as the unashamed actress declared that her genital organ, "coco", was angry, in the first Arab adaptation of the US hit play

The Vagina Monologues

.

After winning a tough battle with censors, the taboo-breaking Hakeh Neswan, or Women's Talk, has taken Lebanese theatre by storm with sold-out performances and rave reviews.

In a Middle East ruled by strict social and religious traditions, calling genital organs by their name let alone their nicknames is an act of courage.                  

Three of the monologues were adapted by playwright Lina   Khoury from US author Eve Ensler's award-winning play, which has been staged around the world and starred such top names as Susan Sarandon and Whoopi Goldberg.

Even in more avant-garde Beirut, where the stage has recently offered plays about women's liberation, Hakeh Neswan beats them all.

"I found The Vagina Monologues liberating. I wanted to explore how it could be done in Arabic," said director and playwright Lina Khoury, 30, who holds a master of fine arts in theatre-directing from the University of Arkansas.

"But because of cultural differences, I had to 'Lebanize' it."

Four young, talented and unblushing actresses have been luring crowds with 12 monologues breaking taboos on sex, venereal infections, menstrual syndromes, rape, violence against women, homosexuality and even lewd conduct at the gynecologist's office.

Three of the monologues were adapted by Khoury from US author Eve Ensler's award-winning play, which has been staged around the world and starred such top names as Susan Sarandon and Whoopi Goldberg.

She wrote the other nine in Arabic after interviewing dozens of Lebanese women of all ages and backgrounds about their intimate and social problems.

"I did not want to just shock people. I wanted it to be an occasion to start talking about these things, so it is less about sex and more about women's problems", she said.

But Khoury, who also works in film production and teaches television and advertising at the American University College of Science and Technology (AUST) in Beirut, had to fight hard to get past the censors.

"For a year and a half, they kept scrapping off pages and paragraphs. And I kept arguing and rewriting the script. Then I decided to go to the minister of culture, even without an appointment. After I explained the situation, he helped me".

Finding actresses was also a challenge. Some declined nicely, citing family pressure, and she had to tone down parts for others who stayed on.