Theater in Egypt has been suffering for years from the lack of good scripts. Comedies suffer especially more because they rely chiefly on the mass appeal of star comedians to attract audiences through their unique comedy routines regardless of the subject matter.
“El-Nas Betheb Keda (That s the Way People Like It), the winter season production of the government-run Comedy Theater, follows the same tired formula. Its latest production, an adaptation of Ezzeldin Zulficar’s classic musical comedy “Street of Love, features veteran director Essam El-Sayed in a collaboration with popular singer Iman El-Bahr Darwish and comedian Hala Fakher.
First off, the play does not credit the film for its origin; the writing credits go to two writers, Ahmad El-Sayed and Akram Mustafa. Their mission, they told Daily News Egypt, was to find a contemporary angle on which to hinge the story. “The play tries to address many of the current problems including severe class disparities and the prevailing corruption, Mustafa said.
The play opens in an airport, where a crowd gathers to welcome a star. Friends of the protagonist soon find out, however, that the crowds had not gathered to hail their friend with the golden voice (Darwish) but were waiting with garlands to receive a young singer known for his mediocrity.
Darwish has just returned from the Gulf empty-handed after his sponsor lost his money in the stock market.
Though financial challenges are one of the major hurdles featured in both the original film and the adapted play, the values of the 2010 production differ greatly from those of the 1960s film. In “Street of Love, Darwish’s shabby neighborhood neighbors collect their savings to send the talented singer, played by the legendary Abdel Halim Hafez, to study music in a proper academic institute. On the other hand, the friends of the new adaptation’s protagonist assist him travel to a Gulf country for work to make money. In both situations, he comes back empty-handed and is forced to find work, which takes the action to the other side of the tracks.
The world of the rich and powerful is portrayed here with broad strokes and implausible exaggerations. Talented comedian Hala Fakher plays the young daughter of a powerful businessman, who crashes cars and destroys property as a pastime and to win bets against another rich woman. When Darwish rescues Fakher from a car crash, he is invited to their club house where corrupt deals are struck and people are shot when they upset the lords.
The conscientious crooner with his patriotic songs is not welcome in that world. But to make a living, he disguises himself as a deaf old man, recording many of the conversations to reveal the corruption. When his scheme is discovered, he and many of his neighbors are locked up until they deliver the tapes.
Eventually, following a series of far-fetched situations, the businessmen strike a deal with the singer, offering buy his silence by making him a star. Meanwhile, the rich daughter falls in love with him and is surprised to realize that her father is a corrupt businessman.
The implausible ending sees the singer succumbing to temptation, agreeing to sing coarse lyrics with popular brash melodies. When the audience favorably engages with him, showering him with enthusiastic applause, the music stops abruptly and Darwish steps to the front of the stage and asks the audience directly, “Do you really like this kind of music? Do people really prefer this kind of art?
These insincere inquiries are pointless; the audience would certainly not declare that they prefer “lowbrow art when it is defined as such. The lame conclusion does not resolve any of the issues presented in the performance.
Many talents are wasted in this production. Essam El-Sayed is a theater director with a long history of commendable works under his belt. Unfortunately, his name does not save the play, which is lacking on all fronts.
The weak plotline does move smoothly, partly due to the fixation on side jokes and ad-libbing. The cumbersome set design with its elaborate details does not help the performance either, especially when there seems to be a problem in every change of set.
Several actors with indisputable talent like Mohamed Radwan and Rania Mahmoud Yaseen are not given enough material with which they can properly build the character; the hasty twists in plot weaken their efforts even further.
The same goes for Fakher, a strong comedian and a competent actress with numerous memorable theater TV and cinema roles. However, in the absence of a strong script, her talent is wasted on slapstick routines and one-liners.
On the other hand, Darwish has limited acting abilities, but his warm voice and the melodious music numbers he composed for the performance do offer some engaging moments.
The winter production of the Comedy Theater lacks the charm of the original film, and does not offer much substance. This is most certainly not the way people like it.
“That s the Way People Like It is shown daily at El-Ayem Theater by Gamaa Bridge, 9:30 pm.