Dramatic & Opera Translations

Tibi’s Law

by Jean Verdun, translated by Robert Cohen (with David Carroll)

The two-character play is set in a cemetery in a small and impoverished West African village, where the Master of Ceremonies and African “Sayer,” Tibi by name, conducts his daily funerals – which are attended by both mourners and foreign tourists, who have been sent by their travel agents to witness “the real Africa.” In the course of honoring the dead, consoling the bereaved and sharing his African predicament with the tourists, Tibi discovers his long-lost girlfriend, whom he rescues from her now-abysmal condition.

The play is translated by Cohen (with David Carroll) from Jean Verdun’s Mieux que nos pères (Paris: Detrad, 2001). The world premiere was directed by Cohen at Stages Theatre Center in Hollywood in 2003, with Saul Williams and Erinn Anova in the cast; Williams won the L.A. Weekly’s “Best Male Lead Performance of 2003-2004” for his portrayal of the title role. Tibi’s Law has subsequently been produced at the National Theatre of Ghana (2004), and has been published in Theatre Forum, 2004 and Plays International. Mieux que nos pères had its French premiere at the Theatre de Troisième Oeil in Angers in 2005. English-language performance rights are available from the author.

Review excerpts

BEST MALE LEAD PERFORMANCE OF 2003-2004 to Saul Williams as Tibi. —L.A. Weekly Theatre Award. “PICK OF THE WEEK!” —L.A. Weekly

“A rare chance to see the work of a major contemporary French playwright, Jean Verdun. The result is something of a coup, not only for Stages but for everyone in Los Angeles who likes provocative stage work, by turns witty, poetic, satiric, sardonic and heart-rending. Cohen’s translation and direction are superb, a must-see production for Los Angeles audiences.” —Lively Arts

“TIBI’S LAW SHOCKS AUDIENCE. To say that the audience that watched ‘Tibi’s Law,’ the newest play by Frenchman Jean Verdun, were shocked would be an understatement. Indeed, they were humbled by the power of the play. The gravity of the issues Tibi discusses…war, poverty, refugees and others, hits you with such force that you cannot help but picture the suffering in your mind’s eye. —Graphic Showbiz (Ghana)

“A satirical creation that mocks the present world system… Beautifully acted… a great theatrical show.” —Accra Times (Ghana)

“Cohen’s staging is commendably intense, with an artful sense of intimacy. The performances are beautifully rendered: Williams’ genial yet tragic Tibi blends irony, despair and wit, while Anova’s subtle Mara communicates her suffering with a heartfelt poignancy; beguiling characters who are richly human and enticingly multidimensional. —Backstage West

“Staged with obvious care by Robert Cohen with a committed and charismatic… cast. Williams’ charismatic performance illuminates both the engaging con man and the sensitive poet residing within Tibi in a startling clash of theatricality and sobering mortality.” —Los Angeles Times

“The performances are powerful and the play is poetic and precise in its imagery, saying with incredible art what needs to be out in the world today.” —Artistsnetwork.org

“A wonderful tale. Actor/poet Saul Williams as “Tibi”, part priest, part King, part Used Car Salesman, salvages hope and joy in the darkness and guides us comically and tearfully toward the dawn,” —Afrodecia.com

“A jarring reminder of the casualties of globalization.” —Get Underground

“Cohen’s translation and direction are superb. TIBI’S LAW is a must-see production for Los Angeles audiences. —Willard Manus, Lively Arts.

Script excerpt (scene 1)

TIBI: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming! As your travel agency has told you: “the most beautiful burials, the most authentic ones, are those in which Tibi officiates.” Well, I am Tibi. And you will be satisfied.

Oh, don’t be afraid! Banish your fears! No one here will accuse you. You’ve come to attend our burials, and why not? You’ve paid for them. I certainly won’t accuse you. I, too, am affronted when they call you “morbid spectators of poverty and death.” I live off of death. No, I don’t think you’re morbid. There are people who delight in slapstick humor, others who love ballets (I do too!), others who long for clever comedies, and still others farces that ridicule women – and men who are deceived by women. But you, tourists, you came here to see and to understand. Tragedy attracts you! Well, I will give you what you have come for. Here, everyone says to me: “Make us cry, Tibi! Make us cry leaden tears! Well, ladies and gentlemen, your travel agency has not misled you. With Tibi, tears are guaranteed!