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Arts & Culture

Egyptian Playwrithgt at MTSU: The Arab Spring and After

El-Husseini will discuss his recent play Comedy of Sorrows (Commedia Al-Ahzaan), written after the Egyptian revolution of 2011. Scenes from the play will be read by professional actors.  The event is part of a Vanderbilt series related to the “Arab Spring” that  includes a dramatic reading of the entire play at Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Cinema at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, April 4 at 7:00.

First performed in July 2011 at Cairo’s Al-Ghad Theatre, Comedy of Sorrows (El-Husseini’s eighteenth play) won accolades from some of Egypt’s most influential critics and scholars.  In a review she wrote for Al-Ahram newspaper, for instance, Nehad Seleiha called the play an “emotionally poignant and aesthetically cathartic theatrical experience.”  The play introduces us to a diverse handful of characters—women and men, rich and poor, city dwellers and peasants—who band together in an unnamed Square to overthrow an unnamed regime.  At the heart of this group of protesters is Doha, a young university-educated woman.  Through a series of encounters with diverse members of her society—among them two university-educated young men living in a garbage dump and a villager fiancé of a martyr killed in the Square—Doha comes to realize how little she understood about her country. Through a unique combination of vivid poetry and colloquial dialogue, A Comedy of Sorrows celebrates the uprising of a people while at the same time anticipating the tumult of a nation transitioning into democracy. 

Among El-Hussseini’s previous award-winning plays are The Final Days of Akhenaton, Tattoo Birds, The Piper, Museum of Human Organs, Garden of the Drunk, and Seduction.  In his plays he mixes colloquial Egyptian dialect and traditional Arabic and explores the themes of freedom and social justice. He has proclaimed his wish to provide his audiences “with Arab reality, especially Egyptian reality, and ways that the theater in particular is able to absorb that reality.”  El-Husseini also has published theater criticism and poetry.

The English translation of the play has been produced by Mohammed Albakry, MTSU associate professor of applied linguistics (now on a Fulbright grant in Morocco), and Rebekah Maggor, Vanderbilt lecturer in English.  Just as the pace of revolution has been swift, so too have been the writing and translation of the play—an indication of how monumental and urgent these historical events have been.

The event, sponsored by the Middle East Center and the Office of International Affairs, is free and open to the public.