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The Last Supper by Ahmed El Attar

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The production suggests a contemporary reality with a portrait of Egypt’s ruling class at table. Their supper takes place in a vast space with a backdrop of shimmering blues and silver. A very long table made of plexiglass dominates the scene. It is set with expensive glasses, silverware, and china. A man sits on the edge of the table looking out into the distance. Another joins him while another walks over to the table to make sure the place settings are correct. Soon an entire family is seated, paterfamilias smoking an expensive cigar, in the center, a general next to him, the father’s son and daughter-in- law and their children, their daughter and her husband, a close family, friends, and three servants. This is clearly not “Christ’s Last Supper,” as the ironic title of the play infers. As the play began, I realized that I could not read any of the French supertitles. They were much too light on a light background. I decided to sit back to see what I could understand of the play. Interestingly, as it turned out when checking with other audience members after the show, my understanding of the “plot” and even the insipid conversation was quite accurate.

The Last Supper presents a microcosm of “Egypt’s class-led society with its hegemony of despotic father figures,” to quote the director. Even if I could not understand what the characters were saying, the visual composition of the play speaks volumes. Here is a self-satisfied, vacuous group of people, incapable of imagining or even thinking about their country’s needs. The Arab Spring has come and gone, and Egypt’s economic elite is not the least bit changed. As the general says: “It’s just a few months and everything will go back to normal. It will even be better than before.” His words illustrate the general tenor of the dinner conversation. The play’s dialogue was actually composed from private telephone conversations that El Attar recorded.

Temple Independent Theatre Company, "The Last Supper." Directed by Ahmed El Attar

Temple Independent Theatre Company, “The Last Supper.” Directed by Ahmed El Attar.

A very large cow’s head serves as the centerpiece for the table. It is bright and white and visually symbolic, perhaps, of the emptiness of these frivolous people. The woman at the far end of the table is especially mindless. She is the mother of two children seated on the floor in front, and a baby who is held by a nanny who is not allowed to approach the table unless beckoned by her. She clearly cares little for children or her baby, who is handed off to the nanny whenever it doesn’t suit her. She prefers to read her tablet while the general talks on the phone and a younger woman sends text messages on her I-phone. The children, a boy and a girl, are spoiled brats, of course, the boy in particular. He gleefully runs around throwing things at one of the servants and hitting him. The conversation turns to their preferences in cities other than Cairo. The mother prefers London to New York: “London is amazing,” she announces in English. “Big Ben, Harrod’s, shopping” sum up her preferences. The uncle is cooking up some prank with the boy. It concerns the servant, who is obliged to kiss the boy’s hand to ask forgiveness for something he did not do and he is fired for no reason.

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