Pakistani Theater Troupe Protests War
By PAUL HAVEN
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP - 14 Feb) - Their stage is a grimy, traffic-choked street corner, their costumes a few brightly colored sheets.
But the actors of the street production of ``Hidden Objectives'' say they are speaking to the world, and their message is clear: Stop the U.S.-led war against Iraq.
In a country where dissent often takes the form of angry marches led by even angrier hardline Islamic clerics, the concept of a street theater protest is novel.
At a recent performance in Rawalpindi, a bustling city adjacent to the capital, actors competed to be heard over car horns and the cries of goats being sold for slaughter in the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which began Wednesday.
``This is a very small canvas, I admit,'' said the play's writer, William Pervez. ``But we want to tell the whole world that war is not a solution. Peace is always the answer.''
The play makes no mention of President Bush or Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, and there is not a word about weapons of mass destruction or Security Council resolutions. But the symbolism is not hard to grasp.
The play is about an evil king who orders a small oil shop owner to relinquish all of his matches, for fear he will use them to burn down his kingdom. When the shopowner protests that he has no such matches, the king sends an inspector to search the shop, but does not find any matches.
Against the protests of onlookers, the king occupies the man's shop anyway. When someone asks him why, he shiftily removes a can of oil from beneath his robe. The king admits he is doing it to get his hands on the man's oil.
``Hear ye, hear ye! Call the people together. The king has come,'' one of the players booms as the performance gets under way, immediately drawing together an audience of the curious.
The actors have been popping up unannounced at markets and street corners, and the 15-minute play has commanded a crowd at each stop, said Sarwar Bari, director of a Pakistani charity called Pattan that co-produces the performance.
At a recent show in Rawalpindi, about 150 people, mostly men and boys, gathered in a tight circle around the actors, mesmerized despite the makeshift costumes and somewhat wooden acting.
``Iraq was portrayed as helpless. All blame is heaped on its head,'' said Naveed Shakoor, 29, who watched from his photocopy shop behing the actors. ``They should have these kinds of plays more often so people can know what is happening.''
Another onlooker, Rafaqat Khan, pushed his cart full of guavas over to the roadside to watch. He said the play made him think about the looming crisis, and that he hoped there would be a peaceful way out.
``We should solve issues together,'' Khan said.
Pakistan has been an important ally of Washington in the war against terrorism, but the government has said repeatedly that it would oppose a unilateral U.S. invasion of Iraq that bypasses the U.N. Security Council.
Most ordinary Pakistanis feel more strongly, seeing the U.S. buildup in the Gulf as unjustified agression toward a fellow Muslim country.
The performers say they are not interested in the rhetoric of Pakistan's religious right, which has railed against U.S. action and talked of a war between Muslims and the West. Many of the actors, including Pervez, are from Pakistan's small Christian community.
``It's not about Muslims,'' Bari said. ``It's about oil, and that's what this play hopes to portray.''