Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Last Supper

I don't want to write a show that would be about the revolution itself, but rather about what it can mean to revolt... or not to revolt. I decided to set the show in the Cairo upper class. I don't feel or express any kind of hatred towards them, but I can only observe that its members live in a bubble. Nothing seems to affect them. The revolution didn't really touch them. Or if it did, it was only within the limits of their world.  
~ Ahmed El Attar's thoughts in an interview with Renan Benyamina for the Festival d'Avignon in 2015. Translated by Gaël Schmidt-Cléach.

Glad SIFA brought in Egyptian playwright and director Ahmed El Attar's 'The Last Supper'. First staged 2014, the censor-defying production has toured several festivals in different cities, its script and dialogue carrying the director's not-so-veiled critique and comments of Egyptian society.

The one-hour play follows the dinner conversation of a typical affluent family in Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. I don't know if it can be considered a summary of the microcosm of Egyptian society, but it certainly reflects a facet of it. There was no satisfactory ending. It's a vignette. Make of it what you will.

At the dinner table, the body language and conversation provided the audience with a window to the family's 'superficial lives'. Each character is "a self-absorbed philosophy mired in his or her preconceptions". Giggled. Each family member is a stereotype (bad), and can be similarly found in our families across ethnic and cultural identities, and for some of us, representative of the dreaded extended family meal at Ramadan, Hanukkah, Christmas, Lunar New Year, etc.

I had a huge problem with the surtitles. It couldn't be seen clearly by audiences at the back. I was seated at the third row from the stage and I had to strain to read them. The colors of the surtitles (font against background) weren't conducive for the audience. And the English translation could have been better. The different conversations carried on by different characters flowed too fast for non-Arabic speakers to fully comprehend, and too fast for the surtitles to capture.

I think the theatre is necessarily political and social. But I don't want to make a moral theatre, whose only purpose would be to be edifying. I'm not interested in moralizing. I just try to show pictures, a slice of time, to express my vision and my experience of certain situations. What I'm trying to do in this particular show is to create a sort of experience of the void. Everything that happens between the characters of the play turns out to be empty, to be nothing. 

Instead of asking 'what's wrong with Egyptian society', we might as well ask 'what's wrong with our society'. Humans are infinitely more scary than any ghosts, jinn, sprites and monsters. We are fully capable of wrecking this earth and prevent peace from prevailing. We are the demons who create wronged ghouls, lost souls and vengeful spirits.

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