It is not always easy to produce theater work for children that is simultaneously interesting for adults. This is the thought that ran through my mind while sitting down to watch the first scenes of “The Invention,” presented by ACT, the Alumni Community Theater group of the American University in Cairo.
The play, presented in a Saturday afternoon matinee in an outdoor space in Old Cairo’s Darb 1718, had in fact a staggeringly low child-adult audience ratio. Where twenty-some odd grownups sat on orange bean bag chairs in the grass, there were but three children present at the start of this audience participatory play. Luckily, at least one of them was quite spirited.
The play began simply enough. An enthusiastic, perhaps somewhat caffeinated narrator named Joyo, played by Hani Eskander, strode out on stage in a costume reminiscent of that of a stilt walker. Deftly waving his cane as he spoke, he set out the rules of the play, informing the audience that a group of inventors had invented a machine that had to be kept safe from the malicious “Kalibad” (not to be confused with Shakespeare’s infamous antagonist).
Three bumbling and lovable characters; Mechani, Physio and Hopey have created a machine, he says, which magically manufactures toys for children. Where the mildly cold weather and the fact that I was less than comfortable on my bean bag chair were concerned, the absolutely adorable and earnest performances of these three actors — Reem Kadry, Ali Nasser and Adham Zihan began that process which proverbially and quite literally warmed my heart.
Within the span of this short and cleverly written play, these three in cahoots with Joyo, set out to sort and assemble the whimsical invention in time to sell it to “a group of local businessmen” intending to purchase the invention. As it were, this all leads the way for a series of run-ins with their caped and dastardly enemy Kalibad, played with a dark finesse by Sara El-Sayed. Aside from this host of highly professional performances, the play’s hilarity was also highlighted by a few longwinded yet inaudible speeches by a girl of six in the front row.
On this particular day however, the performance suffered from a shortage of these spontaneous occurrences due to a lack of more youthful guests. According to the literature of the newly formed group, ACT intends to perform for “The AUC community and the community at large.”
The play’s program reads: “We are a community of alumni for the community” and “Our motto is ‘Give us a Space… We will give you a Show.’” Yet with a children’s show presented entirely in English and matinee tickets selling at LE 30, one is given pause to wonder on the scope of that “community” ACT seems to be appealing to.
Encouraging and accommodating, however, the friendly onstage actors found their way through the afternoon’s foibles, from the planned unfolding of the amusing script and the unplanned situation regarding their young participants.
Aided by the play’s crafty set design, the actors performed with panache and were collectively a pleasure to watch. The play concludes with a surprise ending that transforms the dubious Kalibad into “Kaligood” — whereupon El-Sayed broke into a jazzy tongue-in-cheek song and dance routine, brilliantly backed up by the ensemble.
Absolutely unanticipated, this single musical number was performed amidst peals of laughter from the audience and satisfied at once the question with which I’d began watching — this talented ensemble indeed provided a spectacle pleasing for both children and adults.
“The Invention,” written by Brad Gromelski is directed by Amina Khalil and Leila Saad.