Hanager Theatre with poster for Night Traveler. Photo: Marvin Carlson.
Articles, Volume 9

Sabour’s Night Traveler in Cairo

Sabour’s Night Traveler in Cairo
By Marvin Carlson 
Arab Stages, Volume 9 (Fall, 2018) 
©2018 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publications

I have often observed in attending even the most prestigious of the many international theatre festivals that one or two local performances, not included in the festival, were as impressive as anything granted the official stamp of the celebration. This was certainly the case on my recent trip to Cairo in September of 2018 to attend the Cairo International Festival, when I had the good fortune also to see outside the festival a superb production of Sabour’s Night Traveler which in terms of acting and directing rivalled the best work in the festival and in stage design was clearly the most memorable production of this visit.

Night Traveler Musafir Lail) is one of the classics of the Egyptian theatre. Since its creation in 1968 it has received countless revivals in Egypt and throughout the Arab world thanks to its horrifying but profoundly comic absurdist depiction of the eternal dictator/oppressor and his victim. The action is simple, and much in the absurdist tradition. On a railway car a narrator introduces us to a tired, bored traveler, who soon after is approached by a rather overbearing ticket agent demanding his ticket. As the action develops the conductor becomes more and more demanding and tyrannical, removing layers of clothing to reveal himself in a variety of historical guises—Alexander, Hannibal, Tamerlane, Hitler, and others. More and more he overwhelms the desperate passenger, while the narrator retreats in fear, until at last the confrontation culminates in the conductor stabling the passenger to death. All of this is done, however, is an exaggerated comic style that increases both the humor and the horror.

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