Wednesday, January 21, 2004

"Mama America"

The play "Mama America" is apparently very popular in Egypt. The play portrays the US as a "simpering, conniving matron in silly hats. Israel is her cousin, lurking maliciously around the edges of the action." The play explores whether or not Egypt should despise the US because "America interferes with the Arab countries" or if Egypt should "marry America" so that it can feed its country and salvage its economy.

This is how the world looks from a drafty playhouse in the downtown caverns of this capital: America is a simpering, conniving matron in silly hats. Israel is her cousin, lurking maliciously around the edges of the action. Arabs are a fractious and dysfunctional clan, sickly, spaced out and self-involved.

Then there's the sorry spectacle of Egypt, a heavy-hearted man torn between his bickering brethren and the possibility of salvaging his family's ancestral lands by marrying America.

"If I put my hand in her hand to live, my brothers and sisters will look down on me," he says miserably. "But if I don't, I'll die of hunger."

Egyptian playwright Mohammed Sobhi has wrought this anthropomorphic world in his newly revived satire, "Mama America." The play is a sensation, packing in the weary workers of Cairo even now, when the economy is so rotten that many people couldn't afford to buy meat for Ramadan feasts. Still, they fill the darkness, babies in their laps, and turn their faces upward to soak up the parody.

"For the first time, we feel somebody personifies our pain," said Shaime Amin, a skinny, bright-eyed business student. "You see how America interferes with the Arab countries? We're sitting here laughing, but deep down we're crying, because this is happening to us."


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