By Nicole Estvanik
Kamal, the patriarch of the Fawzi clan, is having a tough Ramadan. While one son, Hamza, unconvincingly denies his attraction to men, the other, Tawfiq, has renounced Islam, and devout daughter Huwaida has cold feet about her arranged marriage. Over 48 hours, a family celebration erupts in chaos, culminating in an arrest.
“This is going to be a big old melodrama!” was Yussef El Guindi’s initial fear as he wrote Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith. But after the first reading, several people told him they’d recognized their own (Irish, Jewish, Southern Baptist) tumultuous family backgrounds in the piece. To El Guindi this was welcome evidence he’d written what he’d intended: “a big American immigrant story.”
El Guindi originally began the development of Ten Acrobats in 2002 with Los Angeles’s Cornerstone Theatre Company as part of its Faith-Based Cycle, with input from local Muslims. The project hit a roadblock when a number of those community members objected to the plot thread involving homosexuality. Unwilling to compromise either the community partnership or the integrity of the script, the theatre and playwright agreed to cancel the production. In the context of Cornerstone’s exploration of the major religions, El Guindi realizes a certain pressure was on the show to speak for all American Muslims. “But no one play can do that,” he says. He wondered at the time, “If this hadn’t been billed as ‘The Muslim Play,’ would they have reacted the same?”
Now he has a chance to find out: After another period of intensive development at Chicago’s Silk Road Theatre Project –which dedicates itself to the work of playwrights from Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean backgrounds—Ten Acrobats premieres there through Dec. 30, directed by Stuart Carden.
Sexual identity is just one aspect of the tale the Egyptian-born, U.K.-raised, Seattle-based El Guindi tells about cultural assimilation and the generation gap. “It’s about tolerance,” he summarizes. “You can let go of certain things you think are essential, but what is most important, you can maintain.”
In April, Silk Road will produce another El Guindi piece, Back of the Throat, previously seen on the West Coast. Both plays are preparing for a leap of their own: translation into Arabic, for upcoming productions in Cairo.