chapter  62
4 Pages

Flânerie of the mind

Beyene Haile’s Asmara play as a dramaturgy of the street
WithChristine Matzke

The Eritrean capital of Asmara – UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2017 – contains a stunningly beautiful collection of largely modernist buildings from the period of Italian colonial rule (1889–1941), including today’s Cinema Asmara, Eritrea’s de facto national theatre, situated at the crest of Godena Harnet (Liberty Avenue), the capital’s principle boulevard.

In January 2008, this uniquely located playhouse witnessed a theatre production that did not sit easily with the country’s cultural imaginary. Performed by amateurs rather than government artists, Beyene Haile’s Weg’i Libi (Heart-to-Heart Talk) seemed to defy typical strands of Eritrean theatre arts, many of which rooted in the cultural practices of the war of independence against Ethiopia (1961–1991), and appeared to lack any of the didacticism common to much local drama. Difficult to understand – with no obvious plot or clear message – the production nonetheless drew crowds, largely because it invited audiences to participate in, what is argued, what was the intellectual flânerie presented on stage.

This chapter traces the production process of Weg’i Libi before offering a short critical reading. It relates the external topography of Asmara to the internal topography of the play, and looks at the resultant metaphorical potential regarding prospective futures of Eritrea, particularly the absence of a ‘message’.