Wannus, Saadallah (1941–1997) By Ziter, Edward
Saadallah Wannus, Syria’s best known and most respected contemporary playwright, was born in Tartous province. His plays were deeply critical of Arab power structures and several of these plays were censored in Syria. However, his fame ensured their wide dissemination and shortly before his death from cancer his complete works were published in Syria in three volumes. Several scholars divide Wannus’s output into three periods. The first period represents Wannus’s experimentations with European Modernism, especially Expressionism and Symbolism. Typical of these movements, these plays are attentive to the stultifying social (and economic) conditions that oppress characters. The second period is often referred to as that of “politicizing theater,” a phrase that Wannus discussed in the introduction to this play, Mughamarat ras al-mamluk jabir [The Adventure of the Head of Jabir the Mamluk] (1970). The period is marked by the use of indigenous tales and performance forms that directly engage members of the audience. Usually allegorical, these works draw audience attention to their own responsibility in creating and perpetuating the existing power structures. This period also marks Wannus’s engagement with Brecht. The late works feature a new attention to psychological complexity, specifically exploring how these psychologies are shaped by and help to shape oppressive power structures in the family and the state at specific historical moments.