The repertoire system found in many international theaters is virtually unknown in contemporary Egyptian theater. It’s rare when a play is given a second run after its initial opening season.
One recent exception was Sadalla Wannus’ “Al-Malek Howa Al-Malek (The King is the King), a massive success when first opened on Al-Salam Theater in downtown Cairo whose popularity was accredited to its star singer Mohamed Mounir. A few years later, “The King was restaged with the same cast and director (Morad Mounir) and enjoyed more success and a longer run in its second life on stage.
This season, Al-Salam Theater is replicating the same formula of presenting a play from its recent repertoire. “Sons of Anger and Love, written by Karam El-Naggar and directed by Nasser Abdel Mon’em, was shown for the first time in 2001. The star-studded cast included singer Anoshka, veteran actor Ahmad Rateb, young thespian Mohamed Nagati, and upcoming comedians Sayed El-Romy and Hassan Abdel Fatah.
The same group was recast in the “Sons of Anger and Love, Al-Salam Theater’s premier presentation this winter season. The director’s program notes promises an insight into theater backstage; “the magic of the theater world.with its desires, ambitions and frustrations.where reality is conflated with illusions.
The premise of the play is simple. A famous director goes to a coastal town to scouts out local talent to form a new theater company. Many of the aspiring artists employed in the tourist industry in that remote town flock to the auditions.
This loose structure allows each artist to showcase their talent. The first act is composed mainly of sketches, where each of the performers illustrates their skills whether it is dance, song, or just cracking jokes.
For some ambiguous reasons, in the second act, the male protagonist decides to put the director on trial. The trial utilizes the generation gap theme with the director representing the older generation in his attempts to justify actions that have blighted Egyptian society since the pivotal 1952 military coup, which ended the monarchy.
The young artists blame the older generation for their own failures and inability to fulfill their dreams. Most of the second act lists the dreams of the aspiring actors and how they are crushed under the harsh realities of a consumerist society.
Apart from the set, which vaguely hints at a back of a theater, there is not much to suggest theatricality, meta-theatricals, or theater magic. “Sons of Anger and Love could be set in a school, a factory, or in any organization of people with unfulfilled dreams. The characters are all cliché, predictable and one-dimensional. In many cases it is not clear what moves them, drives them to action, or makes them change their position.
Most of the performance is made up of monologues by actors, which are often interrupted by other actors for comic effect. The group scenes do not offer anything new in terms of staging or exciting visuals. There are a few dance numbers imposed on the play. First, they offer what the director terms “traditional dancing. He encourages them to present work that carries their own signature, but these “new numbers are also unoriginal in choreography and style, and do not add much flair or substance to the play.
Only one scene shows the distinctive mark of director Nasser Abdel Moneim. The depiction of the factory where the drummer (Sayed El-Romy) and his fiancé (Doaa Ramadan) work is well-executed in fast, precise movements and sung dialogue. The simple repetitive movements and the dramatic lighting evoke the devolution of humans into machine under the heavy hand of industrial demands and commercial values.
In spite of the big names employed in the performance, Anoshka and Ahmad Rateb, “Sons of Anger and Love lacks vitality and verve. The stale performance is not saved by the neither intruding dance numbers nor the well-performed songs of Anoshka. What keeps a spark of life in the show is mainly the ad-lib comedy that Sayed El-Romy improvises with Hassan Abdel Fattah and Doaa Ramadan.
The star performers and the impromptu comedy can’t hold a show together without a backbone of dramatic structure. If you remove any chunk of this play, the overall performance will not be affected in the least. The dramaturgical problems of pasting a few characters one after the other amounts to a play without a clear purpose, mentioning all of society’s problems without tackling any of the issues with a hint of depth or analysis. The father and sons in this play portray fake anger and unauthentic love.
“Sons of Anger and Love plays daily at Al-Salam Theater, Kasr Al-Aini St., Downtown Cairo, 9 pm.