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A Crime on Restaurant Street

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Modern theatre is considered to have been brought to Yemen in 1904 by a traveling company from India, and the first native theatre company was formed in Aden in 1910, a school group which began with a production of Julius Caesar.  A real tradition of modern literary drama did not begin to develop in Yemen until the 1940s, but none of the authors of that generation gained a reputation beyond the national borders.  A significant but unique exception was Ali Ahmed Bakathir, who was born in Indonesia and brought up in Yemen, where he wrote his first play in 1934.  That same year he moved to Egypt, where he spent the rest of his life and where he became a significant figure in the modern Arabic theatre.  Although he has been claimed as part of the Yemini theatre, then, he is generally, and more correctly classified as a contributor to the modern Egyptian stage.

Several of Bakathir’s works are available in English.  Ta-Ha Publishers, a small house in London devoted to Middle Eastern work, published his play, The Orchard Keeper, in a 1995 collection of three short moral Islamic moral plays for children.  His 1949, The Tragedy of Oedipus, appeared in a 2005 collection, The Arab Oedipus, published by the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center in New York, and in 2014 his two plays, The Secret of Shahrazad (1952) and Harut and Marut (1962), were translated by Mohamed Abu Bakr Hamid as part of a doctoral dissertation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

Welcome as these Bakathir translations are, they cannot really be claimed as products of the Yemeni theatre, since all were created in Egypt and are very strongly informed by the Egyptian literary theatrical tradition.  A Crime on Restaurant Street is something else entirely – a play by a native still active Yemeni playwright, set in and offering a window upon current life in that country.  It thus offers to English readers not only a new voice from the Arabic theatre world but a hitherto unavailable theatre tradition from that world.

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