Arts & Events
A male writer wants his girlfriend’s opinion of a story he’s written. The writer is in the States; the woman in question is living in Cairo. The text could be obliquely about their relationship, or at least his attitude about relationships, with Arab women in particular. What are her thoughts? “Be frank, even brutal,” he says. The writer—and lover—is asking for it.
The audience for Yussef Al-Guindi’s acerbicly funny dialogue, The Review, which premiered at Theatre Artaud during Golden Thread’s ReOrient Forum: Middle East Center Stage last weekend, never saw or heard more than a few tossed-off snippets of Ratib’s story. But they did get the impact of Shadeeyah’s review of story, storyteller—and of his “storytelling” in general—through their hilariously contentious dialogue across borders and time zones.
But this wasn’t a parody of Love Letters, actors reading from lecterns or sitting across the stage from each other to coyly mimic distance.
In what could be the first live international theater presentation using the Internet, actors James Asher in San Francisco and Zeinab Magdy in Cairo wrangled face-to-face over Skype, half a world away from each other. And the disparities of distance and culture were writ bold in the stunning immediacy of voice and image.
“Why are all your stories about the same thing, an Arab woman and an Arab guy, usually a nebbish?” Shadeeyah starts in. Before the end of the call and the play, they’ve delved into sex, politics and culture. “For somebody raised in America, you have a very Middle Eastern view of women! Please don’t dress up your male fantasies in political guise,” she snaps. And he: “In America, the personal is political! For the record, Americans don’t like politics in art. They feel they’re getting preached at.” He refers to his story as a stealthy game, “cleverly putting in what I intend to say, and they think it says nothing!”
The time difference accents the night and day of their sensibilities. Natib in his bathrobe finally stands up from his laptop to argue hysterically with the enormous projection (in every sense of the word) of Shadeeyah’s face on a screen upstage, his body about the size of her visage.
A lively conversation over the Internet followed. The playwright, in Cairo, remarked he’d written The Review with an audience seated before a proscenium stage in mind: “but now, on the Internet, with audiences in both places, it’s in the round!” Directors Hafiz Karmali (San Francisco) and Dina Amin (Cairo) spoke about their differences of interpretation. “Yussef has it in the script,” joked Karmali. “It’s all about couples!”
Golden Thread hopes to put the groundbreaking production on YouTube, and maybe to have it streamed over the Internet to reproduce the theatricality of the long distance interchange. Meanwhile, there’s still another weekend of ReOrient’s tenth anniversary celebration at Thick House on Potrero Hill, with nine short plays in two series. For information call (415) 626-4061 or see www.goldenthread.org.