On April 19th, The Segal Center put on evening readings of plays Arab “classic plays” by Yusuf Idris, Issam Mahfouz and Sa’dallah Wannous who are described as “some of the Arab world’s most renowned playwrights” though “relatively unknown to the Western world.” As the advertising of the event goes on to say, “Their complex and nuanced plays address the timeless issues of power and politics in ways that deeply resonate with our own situation.”

The event was curated by Joy Sarah Arab in collaboration with Marvin Carlson; with dramaturgy by Salma S. Zohdi.

The Adventure of the Head of Mamlouk Jabir (1971)
Written by Sa’dallah Wannous (Syria)
Translated by Robert Myers and Nada Saab
Directed by Rania Khalil

The Adventure of the Head of Mamlouk Jabir was completed in 1971, several months after Hafez al-Assad seized power. It was first staged in the Arab world in a production directed by the Iraqi director Jawad al-Assadi. The play is perhaps most notable for its use of a hakawati, a traditional Arabic storyteller, as a narrator in a traditional gathering place in the Arab world, a coffee house, who tells the story-within-a-story—a form derived from Eastern frame tales like 1001 Nights.

The Dictator (1969)
Written by Issam Mahfouz (Lebanon)
Translated by Robert Myers and Nada Saab
Directed by Sara Rademacher

The Dictator is an absurdist classic. A minimalist mixture of Ionesco, Plautus, and Beckett, with fierce and frequently hilarious jabs at despotism in the Arab world, The Dictator was a revolutionary work when it was written in the 1960s and continues to speak to the revolutions and reversals unfolding in today’s Middle East.

The Flipflaps (1964)
Written by Yusuf Idris (Egypt)
Translated by Trevor LeGassick
Directed by NJ Agwuna

Known as Yusuf Idris’s foremost absurdist work, The Flipflaps (Al Farafir) was written during a time of great change and challenge in Egypt and caused a literary uproar for two weeks in 1964 before it was banned. The Flipflaps is a two-person dialogue between a master and a slave. The slave, Flipflap, imparts Idris’s social, political, moral, and metaphysical ideas through allusions and symbols.

Evening readings followed by a discussion with Joy Sarah Arab, Marvin Carlson, Kareem Fahmy (Director/Playwright), Philip Himberg (Sundance Institute Theatre Program), Christian Parker (Columbia University), Edward Ziter (Tisch School of the Arts, NYU), and Salma S. Zohdi. Discussion moderated by Frank Hentschker.

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