It's an Iranian story, but many would agree that it could very well be Egyptian, too: a political prisoner, using fables from the past to both escape from reality and comment upon the injustices of the present. And therein lies the success of Once Upon a Time Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
, a experimental theatre performance directed by the Iranian-Egyptian artist Sabry Zekry – it is at once particular and universal.
The character at the center of the play, which will be staged at various venues across Cairo and Minya governorate this month, is in jail for political reasons, suffering from confusion and agony. After being refused visits from her husband and infant child, she declares a month-long hunger strike. She then begins writing in secret, using eyeliner and a handkerchief in lieu of the pen and paper denied her by the prison guard.
It is what she chooses to write, and to whom, that imparts the play with its depth and relevance: in an open letter to her infant son, she tells the legend of Zahhak, a tyrannical figure from Iranian mythology. As she adopts the narrative tone of Faranak, another character from the legend, the comparison between the autocratic days of Zahhak and modern-day Iran becomes clear. What is most striking, though, is the choice of names for her young son: Fereidoon, the hero who in the legend destroys the evil Zahhak.
So her open letter is both a plea and a promise, asking the next generation to rise up and, at the same time, hinting that the history of their victory has already been written.
This optimism for the future was echoed by Zekry , the director, who said in a statement that although the play is based on the last half-century of Iranian history, it also "conveys a prognosis for the future."
Zekry himself might very well be a part of this same hopeful young generation. Born in 1978, he has worked in a variety of disciplines – acting, filmmaking, photography, scriptwriting, as well as directing.
Once Upon a Time Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow will be performed by Naglaa’ Younes and Abd El-Rahman Nasser.
The performance, which is being supported by the Culture Resource's (Al Mawred Al Thakafy) Production Awards Program, will take place at five venues in Cairo and one in Minya governorate:
Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 December, at 7pm
Artellewa, 19 Mohamed Al El Seary Street, Ard El Lewa
Wednesday 11 and Thursday 12 December, at 7pm
Darb 1718, Kasr El-Shamee' Street, El-Fakhareen – Old Cairo (Behind the Hanging Church and Amr Ibn Al-As Mosque)
Sunday 15 and Monday 16 December, at 7pm
El Dammah Theatre (El Mastaba), 30 El Balaqsah Street, Abdeen, Downtown
Tuesday 17 December, at 7pm
Al Nahda Association (Jesuit Cairo), 15 Al Mahrany Street, Al Faggala, Ramsis
Wednesday 18 December, at 7pm
El-Warsha Theatre, 17 Sherif Street, Downtown
Thursday 19 December, at 7pm
New Hermopolis, Tuna El Gabal, Al Miniya