Marco Magoa’s ambitious vision at the Falaki theatre previously brought us El Otro, which explored accepting the other, through the poetry of Ángel González and José Hierro. His latest work, A Night in Cairo, deals with a similar theme and explores the connection Brazilian and Arab cultures share through those who crossed the Atlantic from countries like Lebanon, Syria and Egypt in search of a better life.
Incorporating poetry by Brazilian and Arab writers in translation, including Manuel Bandeira, Elias Farhat, Murilo Mendes, Carlos Drumond de Andrade, Augusto dos Anjos and Vinicius de Moraes, the plot revolved around Nadia, an Egyptian who lives in Cairo, and is informed of her grandmother’s death in Brazil, where she had emigrated as a child. She is sent her grandmother’s memorabilia and letters, and organises a party every Thursday with other Egyptians who have or had relatives in Brazil.
Through her parties, she begins to explore Brazilian culture with her friends and imagine the lives of their relatives, who include some of the hundreds of thousands who emigrated from the Arab world to Brazil in the 19th and 20th century. They talk about their problems, their hopes and dreams, and ultimately discover that their lives are not unlike those of their relatives in Brazil.
The play is meant to be 90% in Arabic and 10% in Portuguese, but during some of the lengthier scenes, the latter certainly felt like more. Too many of the scenes are acted out in Arabic with the dialogue repeated in Portuguese. We cannot decide whether this was more tedious for audiences who did not know Portuguese and could tell the same exact words were repeated but did not know enough to understand them, or those who were bilingual and listened twice.
What prevented the play from immediately becoming popular with the audience present was its liberal pacing; towards the end, it simply could not keep the attention of many audience members. Between the long scenes, Magoa would come out and serenade the audience, usually evoking a positive response with his smooth, pleasant voice, but the songs added to the length of the play and became formulaic after a few times.
The play’s concept and realisation are ambitious and it certainly has its moments: beautiful exchanges of poetic dialogue, a very memorable Capoeria performance, and dance performances with soothing Brazilian music. Unfortunately, audience members are not likely to appreciate these moments because they were lost in the middle of a somewhat confused narrative as witnessed by the fact that some of the audience left during the performance we attended