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Theater Evaluate: “We Dwell in Cairo” – A Nicely-Intentioned However Amateurish Musical Tackle The Arab Spring

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By Christopher Caggiano

Do musicals with honorable intentions deserve a cross on the subject of high quality?

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We Dwell in Cairo by Daniel Lazour and Patrick Lazour. Directed by Taibi Magar. Staged by the American Repertory Theater on the Loeb Drama Middle, Cambridge, MA, by way of June 23.

The solid within the American Repertory Theater’s manufacturing of “They Dwell in Cairo.” Picture: Evgenia Eliseeva.

Through the years, there have been quite a few musicals whose material was honorable however whose execution was lower than stellar. I’ve reviewed inexpert musicals concerning the Holocaust (The Folks within the Image), the plight of transgendered individuals (Southern Consolation), the Japanese internment camps in World Warfare II (Allegiance), the historic wrestle of African People (Bella: An American Tall Story), and the tortured lives of younger homosexual males in Catholic college (Naked: A Pop Opera).

Every of those musicals was eminently noble in its intentions, however none amounted to greater than a mediocre train in musical theater. In every case, it felt considerably churlish to carp about copious weaknesses in craft, on condition that the objective of every piece was so admirable. However it’s not the critic’s job to be a civic cheerleader, however somewhat to research, contextualize, and in the end render a verdict.

Cambridge’s American Repertory Theater has actually had its share of would-be inspirational duds over time, together with the woefully solipsistic Witness Uganda in 2014, which performed New York Metropolis in 2015 beneath the title Invisible Thread. This season, that ignoble distinction belongs to We Dwell in Cairo, a painfully well-intentioned however amateurish new musical (receiving its world premiere) with e book, music, and lyrics by brothers Daniel and Patrick Lazour.

Hey, don’t get me improper. It’s encouraging that that this isn’t but one other mercenary Broadway tryout from the A.R.T., like Discovering Neverland, Waitress, Pippin, The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Jagged Little Tablet, or The Glass Menagerie. It’s heartening to see the A.R.T. doing extra than simply lining its coffers and padding out Diane Paulus’s resume in industrial theater.

The story of We Dwell in Cairo takes place in the course of the Arab Spring uprisings of the early 2010s, particularly in the course of the large protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Sq. that led to the ouster of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 2011 after 30 years of autocratic rule. The characters are a bunch of scholars who take part within the protests, though it’s by no means actually clear precisely what features they carry out within the resistance motion.

Daniel and Patrick Lazour started penning this present in 2013, when the brothers have been 19 and 23 respectively. Though the pair apparently have been creating musicals since their highschool days, their lack of expertise is manifested in nearly each facet of the writing. The dialogue is stilted and expository, albeit peppered with occasional moments of perception. An excessive amount of of the e book comes within the type of direct-address narration, however even when it’s dialogue between the the characters it comes off as synthetic, supplied merely to disclose details that the audio system already know, however are referred to as on to repeat with a purpose to maintain the viewers on top of things. (An impetus that comedians Nick Kroll and John Mulaney ruthlessly parody because the “one-sided cellphone name” of their present Oh, Hiya on Broadway.) The authors additionally make a number of awkward makes an attempt to inject the characters’ private tales into the narrative.

If delusions of political/cultural self-importance  generated credible drama, than We Dwell in Cairo might need amounted to one thing. There’s the star-crossed Muslim-Christian couple whose reckoning is conveniently obviated in  an inexpensive narrative trick straight out of South Pacific. And there’s the 2 males who clearly share a forbidden attraction. However this plot thread is launched too late and resolved too patly to have make any actual influence. Worse nonetheless, the present by no means appears to finish, stretching on and on with a succession of false endings that strive your persistence.

The rating to We Dwell in Cairo is bland and uniform. There’s an idiomatic Center Jap sound to the orchestrations, however the songs are boring and just about tuneless. One might say, effectively, that’s a part of the regional sound the Lazours have been going for, however David Yazbek’s wonderful rating for The Band’s Go to vividly demonstrates that Center Jap music, within the context of an American musical, may be wealthy, diverse, and really theatrical. Compounding the issue (and symptomatic of the authors’ inexperience) is the awkward placement of the feminine vocal components. What the feminine solid members are given to sing is usually in an uncomfortable decrease register — it forces them to over-articulate to order to make themselves understood.

There’s a sure visceral energy to the manufacturing’s war-torn scenic design by Tilly Grimes, and particularly to David Bengali’s copious projections. Sadly, the compelling historic video footage that permeates the present serves as a reminder of the true weight of the occasions the present portrays — gritty substance that solely makes They Dwell in Cairo look all of the extra synthetic.

Christopher Caggiano is a author and trainer primarily based in Boston. He serves as Affiliate Professor of Theater on the Boston Conservatory at Berklee. His writing has appeared in American Theatre and Dramatics magazines, and on TheaterMania.com and ZEALnyc.com.

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