Written by Sevan K. Greene
Directed by Kareem Fahmy
Presented by Rising Circle Theater Collective, The Sheen Center, NYC
May 7-21, 2016
This Time is the continent- and decade-spanning yet intimate new play by Sevan K. Greene, presented in its world premiere by Rising Circle Theater Collective, a group that focuses on original work by artists of color. Greene based his play on Not So Long Ago, the memoir of Amal Meguid, director Kareem Fahmy’s grandmother, to whose memory This Time is dedicated. This Time actually follows two threads of time, one in 1990s Toronto, the play’s present, and one that begins in 1960s Cairo and moves towards that present. In the latter thread, a young Amal (Rendah Heywood) meets Nick (Seth Moore), a Canadian on business in Cairo, at a party. Both are trilingual; Amal is blunt, honest, and married; Nick, avowedly romantic, pushy, and sleeping with his secretary.
In the former thread, Janine (Salma Shaw), one of Amal's daughters by her Egyptian husband, is recently divorced and selling her house when her mother (played by Delphi Harrington in this incarnation) comes to stay with her, bringing idealized visions of Nick along with her broken wrist. These threads interweave on a beautifully designed set that encompasses the first floor entryway and living and dining rooms of Janine's house -- which sometimes becomes Amal and Nick's various homes -- with upper, fabric portions serving as projection screens that allow for alterations in the backdrop as we change time and location. The Cairo images are particularly stunning.
The play pivots smoothly between Amal’s time in Janine’s house and the development and progression of Amal and Nick's relationship. She leaves her family and country -- led at the time with a mix of authoritarianism and Marxist democracy by the secular Gamal Abdel Nasser -- to be with Nick, but as the years pass, their relationship begins to founder on problems such as Nick's peripateticism, pressure from his family to leave Amal, money issues, and Amal’s discontent with the suffocating life of a housewife. Janine, who is also considering a fling with a younger man, feels something of that same suffocation, emblematized by the fact that she sends people on exotic trips for a living while never having traveled herself, excepting her move from Egypt to Canada, where she married and had children almost immediately. The parallels between the situations of mother and daughter are highlighted by occasionally having the characters from past and present occupy the same space, creating an effect not dissimilar to a haunting. The motif of repetition -- both within Amal and Nick’s relationship and within the comparison of Amal and Janine's respective lives and relationships -- functions to raise questions about how Amal and Janine see the(ir) past, including how and how much Amal romanticizes it, and how they see themselves and one another, as well as larger, related questions about freedom, risk, and regret. Late in the play, repetition, with or without a difference, features in an impressively staged climax that arranges all four main characters around the dining room table, collapsing past and present along with individuals’ choices and actions.
As '90s Amal, Delphi Harrington skillfully conveys a mixture of defiance and vulnerability. As younger Amal and Nick, Rendah Heywood and Seth Moore artfully capture, both together and separately, the emotional journey involved as their relationship evolves from simmering attraction and apparent liberation to increasing disillusionment. Salma Shaw's Janine is an involving blend of resolve, frustration, and longing, and Ahmad Maksoud shifts adroitly between Amal’s son Hatem, aggrieved at his abandonment but disinclined to reveal it, and Tom, a 25-year old Canadian promising Janine romance and adventure. Would accepting such an offer turn out differently this time? And are the sacrifices worth the potential rewards? This Time may not provide easy answers, but it offers a compelling meditation on family, love, and identity. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler