Live! With Pascale & Chantal
nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
August 15, 2004
If you’ve gotten into the habit of thinking crass commercialism, shameless celebrity worship, insipid product plugs, and tabloid news are the exclusive domain of American pop culture, Live! With Pascale & Chantal will remind you otherwise. In this parody of Lebanese talk shows, former Miss Lebanon Pascale (Leila Gazale) and “Beirut’s top reporter” Chantal (Jana Zenadeen), give advice to callers, interview celebrities, and even promote a clothing line made of “100% elastical stretch” with superb comic timing, sharp wit, and, of course, chic outfits. And if, like me, you’re coming to this show without prior experience with the ins and outs of Lebanese television—have no fear. Director Maha Chehlaoui and her excellent cast offer plenty of references that are all too familiar, with humor that is very accessible. Live! With Pascale & Chantal could almost be a parody of a morning talk show on any of the major networks in the United States.
Almost, but not quite, and that’s what makes Live! With Pascale & Chantal even more interesting. In many cases, Americanized consumer culture doesn’t appear to fit all that seamlessly with traditional Middle Eastern values. This is evident in simple adaptations of American colloquialisms, as when Pascale refers to hearing things “through the grape leaves,” and in more unsettling conclusions, like equating the use of tampons with losing one’s virginity. The result is a sort of cultural Frankenstein that adds insight and even more humor to an already funny show.
Afaf Shawwa gives a wonderful performance as the Egyptian movie star Aziza, and Demond Robertson provides an excellent straight man as the program’s first guest, a Harvard sociology professor painstakingly trying to solve every caller’s problems with Dr. Phil-like solutions. But Pascale and Chantal shut him down quickly—this is Lebanese television, not The Oprah Winfrey Show—and offer less nuanced and perhaps more culturally appropriate solutions. In doing so, Live! With Pascale & Chantal makes fun not only of Lebanese culture for clumsily aping America, but also of those who see the Third World as the helpless victim of cultural imperialism. American consumer culture may be pernicious, but our sassy hosts serve to caution us not to be too patronizing in seeing the world as our victims. Two can play at exploitation, and Live! With Pascale & Chantal reminds us that American forms can be used to uphold values and mores that may be at odds with our own, and in surprising and sometimes hilarious ways.