Written by the late Egyptian Noaman Ashour, one of the pillars of local 60s theater, “El Maghmatees (The Hypnotist) belongs to the social-realism movement that charted life in post 1952-revolution Egypt.
The play, which is running at the American University in Cairo, tells the story of Ghareeb El Fakhoury, a young psychiatrist who returns home after completing his degree in France. But the residents of his old, poor neighborhood are unable to understand the true nature of his work.
El Fakhoury has a young beautiful sister named Amar who was educated at a French school in Cairo and has a taste for classical music. Along with his old-fashioned, snobbish mother, the three appear to come from a different world than the one they occupy.
To manage his clinic, El Fakhoury hires Atwa Afandy – a devious junkie working in the store of the rich but gauche Haj Abol Mal and his naive brother Mahmoud.
The neighborhood residents assume that the young doctor is some sort of a hypnotist, a man with supernatural powers to solve their problems and predict their futures.
In this neighborhood, science cannot compete with superstition, narrow-mindedness and tradition. The only way El Fakhoury is able to diagnose and heal his patients is by maintaining his haloed image which his patients find more believable than rational psychology and medicine.
Despite the financial, moral and cultural obstacles that confront him, El Fakhoury doesn’t compromise his beliefs and tries to preserve the ethics that Atwa struggles to shatter.
Despite sophisticated appearance, Amar is simply an ordinary Egyptian girl looking to settle down with a well-to-do husband without an ounce of concern for her independence, or for emotional and educational compatibility with her future partner. Even when her education and strong character try to take over, residues of inherited norms prevent her from breaking the fetters of stifling customs.
Three suitors compete for Amar’s hand. The strongest contender is the rich Haj Abol Mal who is the nouveau riche type that would flourish later in the 80s. He’s a man consumed by greed; the greed to con his brother for a bigger share of the business revenue; the greed for power which has him join parliament; and the greed to marry Amar, the most desired woman in the area, despite the big age gap between them.
“The Hypnotist chronicles the conflicting ideas introduced to Egyptian society during the 50s that revolutionized the country, and the futility of traditions that intellectuals felt must be forfeited in order to establish a stronger civilization.
Director Mahmoud El Lozy is restrained yet energetic, clearly admiring that era’s characters, tribulations and even architecture. Even the serious issues tackled in the play are treated and presented light-heartedly with no bitterness.
Medhat Aziz’s décor is simple but expressive and succeeds in capturing the spirit of the 50s while Nermeen Saad’s non-flamboyant costumes contribute to the authentic look of the production.
And the performances are all laudable. Sameh Selim puts on a remarkable show as the cynical El Fakhoury who, amid the constant ranting and confusion, displays a lovable, contemplative side in a few transitory moments.
Mohammed Imam, the young actor who played the extremist Taha El Shazly in last year’s “Yacoubian Building, stands out once more embodying one of Egyptian theater’s first anti-heroes, Atwa.
On the surface, there’s nothing to like about an opportunistic, ill-mannered man who bounces from one job to another, blackmails his employers, and deceives his neighbors. Imam’s rendition is commanding and you’ll find yourself attracted to Atwa’s gaudy misdemeanors and epic outbursts. It’s a very amusing performance by one of the hottest talents in the business.
What makes “The Hypnotist worth watching is the entertainment value. Yet, the play hardly contains anything relevant to our present. There seems to be a wall between the performers and the audience who will feel distant from the characters and their actions.
“The Hypnotist invites you into a past world, intrigues you with its innocent tribulations but leaves you hungry, searching for further meaning and a deeper objective.
“El Maghmatees (The Hypnotist) (in Arabic), runs from today until March 29 at the Falaki Main Stage Theater, AUC, 8 pm Box office opens from 2-10 pm.