On the importance of being an Arab … On the importance of Being Ahmed el Attar

I attended yesterday the play of Ahmed el Attar, “on the importance of being an Arab”, taking place at Rawabet Theater from

31st of July to 2nd of August, and I thought sharing my feedback.

From the “mise en scene” perspective, the play is a really good one, where Ahmed el Attar got his reputation of being a professional dramaturge and director I guess.

In front of a big screen , where a presentation of his love letters, army exempted certificate, some parts of his erotic writings are flipping , el Attar sit there, performing a long extended and uninterrupted phone-call with his friends, his father and his girl friend, soon becoming his wife.

Good lights, good synchronization between the video behind, lights, music and performance!

The music composed and produced by Hassan Khan (well know visual artist). was following the rhythm and tempo of a “shaabi” popular Egyptian music. The soundtracks change in a tempo of their own. Under the hidden crescendo  effect, I was tensed by anticipation, the music has a really significant independent identity in this show  (not sure if this can be taken as  a positive or negative point)

But ….

Seriously I hated the play! At a certain moment, the question “what’s the point!” popped up!, I have attended before plays which were completely pointless! But I was too captured to think about it!

I think if you decided to bring the audience to that close intimate position to your personal life, you have to capture them and give them a good reason to be, and the “expressionless performance” of el Attar, was really annoying, although it was intentional, because you definitely can’t stay 40min with no expression unintentionally, so i can’t say it was a bad performance!

Something else, “m’a tappe sur les nerfs” as we say in French (made me really nervous), in a certain moment of his monologue, Attar criticized the people who made Arts, a luxury for the bourgeoisie, ok but please someone explains to me what kind of play he was presenting yesterday, it’s not because he was speaking Arabic and put a kind off “sha3bi” music that’s mean that this is not `a “bourgeois Play”. Definitely the show wasnot reachable for everyone! And claiming the play “on the importance of being Arab” didn’t made me think that Attar is an Arab example, that can be taken as a general case or a normal Arab one. It was just all about “The importance of being Ahmed al Attar”

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One thought on “On the importance of being an Arab … On the importance of Being Ahmed el Attar

  1. Heba elCheikh says:

    As a response to my feedback about the play, Hassan Khan sent me the bellow message, part of an email exchange that was not intended for posting. I asked for his agreement to post it, as i see that the reader has to have a full image about the play and it’s creator. Hassan elaborated an objective explanation to all the points that I’ve raised in my critic above:

    “Hi heba
    thanks for sending me your response – sorry that you found the performance so distasteful…
    well i have to admit that i drastically differ with you
    and its not just because i have been working with ahmed close to 20 years
    this is actually my favorite work of his since at least 5 years (this includes other much bigger productions where i did much more work but didnt like at all) anyway i can explain how i see it not to try to change your mind but just to give a sense of why things were done the way they were:

    Music: The music is treated as a found object invested with our own articulation of it – so its Shaabi music (the genre) but being used (by myself as the composer/producer) in my own language – it is NOT supposed to be a dramatic soundtrack (to comment on the action / to provide emotions to the scene / to heighter the drama) as more traditional theater set-ups are but rather a whole complete layer existing by itself… so what you see is the subject (Ahmed El Attar) imitating himself and repeating his phone conversations (actual footage shot from daily life and actual phone conversations) a sort of private self-portrait put in relation to an existing PUBLIC world – this music with its energy / power / retardation / obsessiveness is charged by the public sphere – while ahmeds everyday conversations are both private and public…

    Text: the decision to use actual recordings of daily phone conversations (ahmed is continously recording them and shuffling them around so different sets of performances have different phone conversations being read out) is a conceptual one – there is absolutley no editing and the conversation is not one of the hero – i.e. when you make the point about bourgiosie art it doesnt matter if the play appeals to the bourgiosie or not the text is not supposed to be infallible or correct it is (simply) what it is- recordings from daily phone conversations…

    Performance: the expression is again modulated by the recorded phone conversation so it really differs from performance to the next depending on which conversation is being used- however there is a conscious attempt to stay away from “acting”- as in this case we found the method of “acting” to be unproductive – what we are searching for is a presence that is articulated / framed and informed by both public and private concerns and presented as is (the audience can be engaged or not this is kind of up to them)

    i think these are important decisions for this kind of material- otherwise we would be back in everything we cant stand about mainstream egyptian culture (melodrama / self-rightesnouss etc..)
    – Hide quoted text –

    anyway thanks for the feedback it is appreciated i hope my comments have helped a little bit explain what the performance was aiming for”

    Hassan Khan

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