Articles, Essays, Volume 6

A Hair-‘razing’ Adventure: The Head of Mameluke Jaber (2000)

A Hair-'razing' Adventure: The Head of Mameluke Jaber (2000)
By Nehad Selaiha
Arab Stages, Volume 6, Nehad Selaiha Memorial Issue (Spring, 2017)
©2017 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publication

Whoever said that we generally think in metaphors, which accounts for a lot of the absurdities, incongruities and contradictions in human thought, and that this confusion is further confounded by an inveterate human habit of waywardly mixing metaphors, was absolutely right. In this respect, one particularly irritating example is the metaphor of “heavy industry” when used in connection with the theatre. I am not quite sure who thought this up, but I first heard it from veteran director Sa’ d Ardash in the course of a symposium on the future (very bleak indeed if you believe him) of the Egyptian theatre.

I am used to Ardash and his generation’s nostalgic, puffed up glorification of the achievements of the past and to their supercilious, sententious, and often tendentious denigration of the present. I remember blinking very hard when I heard him describe the National theatre as “the forte of heavy industry;” that was new. I pictured the National – the old, fragile building down in Ataba square, with its graceful Islamic architecture – then the ugly, utilitarian complex of steel and iron factories in.Hilwan, the most familiar forte of heavy industry to Cairenes (its emissions mix with the air they daily breathe) and therefore the handiest to the imagination, and tried to reconcile the two images. I failed dismally. The stumbling block was the actors: I simply could not imagine them as factory hands or machines. When I asked Ardash afterwards what he meant, he waved his hand vaguely, drawing a circle in the air and murmured something about the classics, serious drama, the repertoire system, the present management’s abject dereliction of duty and betrayal of its sacred mission. I squinted. Still grappling with the metaphor of the industrial forte, I was now asked to consider that of a holy temple or a crusade!

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