Articles, Reviews, Volume 6

Home-Made Theatre (1998)

Home-Made Theatre (1998)
By Nehad Selaiha
Arab Stages, Volume 6, Nehad Selaiha Memorial Issue (Spring, 2017)
©2017 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publication

To get to the Women and Memory Research Center through the Muhandiseen maze of small streets, you have only to follow your nose. As you approach, your nostrils will be deliciously tickled by the mouthwatering smell of kebab wafted on clouds of smoke from the Hati  (Grillroom). Once inside the building (the address is available on application to The Weekly), your nostrils begin to itch and twitch. You are greeted by more fumes – this time coming from the poor smokers relegated to the stairwell and landings. Barring a heavily curtained balcony, the Center (a small flat on the second floor -consisting of two rooms – knocked into one to form a spacious rectangular hall which, at a pinch, can accommodate up to eighty people – a kitchen and a bathroom) is strictly ‘no smoking’. The atmosphere inside is quite genial and informal, and if you are one of those who cannot resist a drag after half an hour of exciting discussion, you are most welcome to let yourself out. You will be surprised how many have succumbed to the same temptation. They stand or sit in small clusters on the stairs and landings furiously puffing and chatting. Inside, you can get up any time and help yourself to the plentiful supply of tea and coffee, salaisons and biscuits ranged on a long narrow table on one side of the hall.

My first visit to the Center about a month ago had been theatrically motivated: the center was hosting Dalia Basiouny’s live presentation of a project to produce Timberlake Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale and I went purely to watch her. Soon enough, however, I realized that far from being a detached observer, I had become an active and deeply involved participant in a broader theatrical performance. The presentation was part of an evening dedicated to the issue of violence against women, and the scenes Basiouny and her partners read from the play, together with all the ‘taboo’ things that were said before and after, formed a very lively ‘dramatic text’ – one that cut across the prevailing cultural codes and staged an alternative dialogue which the culture at large discouraged and even condemned.

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