With little publicity, no schedules or solid information, the recent Independent Theater Festival is a hidden mystery in the crammed Cairo culture calendar.
Having absolutely no idea what to expect, I entered the theater with caution to watch the latest play Enta Dayes Ala Kalby (You re Squashing My Heart), performed by a theatrical group called El Mesaharty on the stage of new Rawabet theater in downtown Cairo.
Though annoyed at first at my companions exaggerated enthusiasm, the company s energy and passion swiftly got me.
Happy? Not really. Funny? Sometimes. Sad? Yes. Heart is essentially a series of staged vignettes from an Egyptian’s day-to-day life. Some of the stories we see include a marriage gone stale, an Islamic preacher with a talk show and a mother who is proud of her veiled daughter.
Dressed in black, actors walk on stage, freeze in time, and pick up their next prop or role in life in a framework where the dead and living exist side by side.
Speaking about their troubled lives, the actors gradually highlight the problems and issues the average Egyptian has to face, sparking the interest of audience members who could relate.
The characters lack an identity and some of them suffer from social isolation, a vision that challenges the conventional wisdom of a cohesive, community-based Egyptian society. Yet, the play s Director Abeer Ali presents these heavy issues in a delicate, lighthearted manner. Happiness and sadness peacefully co-exist in her world.
Ali told Daily News Egypt that last year’s show “Hakawy El Haramlek (Harem Tales) was rooted in the formal, direct traditions of storytelling; a principle that has been modified in favor of an impressionistic, intricate approach with a thin narrative structure.
“Our reality is more surreal than Salvador Dali’s paintings.
Abeer says that her play is a modern Egyptian tale about different types to people in society: Not just the poor or the underprivileged, but also the wealthy, the educated, the doctors and the teachers; all types of contrasting characters that shape our complex culture.
With a repertoire of 15 shows over 18 years, the everyday setbacks and contradictions of society have been the main themes of El Mesaharty’s works. Their theater extracts its entertainment tools from folk songs, history, proverbs and the tales that have been passed down through oral tradition.
About his experience in Heart, actor Emad Ismail told Daily News Egypt, “I am used to performing monologues. This is the first time I sing, first time to work in a team. We depended on improvisations and we wrote the script together.
In coordination with the Hanagar Theater, the Independent Theater Festival inaugurated its first season on Feb. 18. Seven theater troupes have been presenting their works in small theaters as part of the festival, which ends on April 13.
Mohamed Talaat, executive director of the Rawabet Theater, told Daily News Egypt, “In the past year, we’ve had more than 100 theatrical nights.
Rawabet Theater is a new venue that grants independent artists the space and freedom to present their work with no constraints. Still, Rawabet – its objective and the shows it puts on – is not widely known even to Cairo s culture connoisseurs; an unfortunate reality that can change with a little more publicity.
Catch Enta Dayes Ala Kalby tonight at 8 pm, Rawabet Theater, Hussein El Me amar St., off Champollion St., Downtown, Cairo. Tel: 018 585 5357