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Articles, Essays, Volume 6

Two Plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker: The Love of the Nightingale at the Women and Memory Forum and Our Country’s Good at the AUC (1998)

Two Plays by Timberlake Wertenbaker: The Love of the Nightingale at the Women and Memory Forum 
and Our Country's Good at the AUC *(1998)
By Nehad Selaiha
Arab Stages, Volume 6, Nehad Selaiha Memorial Issue (Spring, 2017)
©2017 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publication

Some dramatists ought to be taken in moderate, well-spaced draughts; otherwise they can give you a terrible emotional hangover. Timberlake Wertenbacker (the famous American playwright living Britain) is of this class of writers; and yet, last week, I was persuaded to take two strong doses of her work within two days of each other.

The first dose was administered at the Women and Memo Research Centre, founded and run by self-effacing but extremely energetic Hoda El-Sadda. She had rung earlier in the week to invite me to an open demonstration and discussion of a new project for a theatre production centering on violence against women. The project is the brainchild of Dalia Basiouny, a young feminist director, and the play she has picked out and done in Egyptian Arabic (to bring its horrors nearer home, as she proudly declares) is Wertenbaker’s The Love of the Nightingale – a harrowing drama of incest, rape, and physical mutilation. It is based on an old Greek legend about Tereus, son of King Ares of Daulis, who weds Procne, daughter of Pandion, king of Athens, rapes her sister Philomele, and cuts out her tongue, and is duly punished by Procne: she slays their son, Itys, and serves up his flesh to him at the dinner table. The gods, seeing the sisters fleeing with Tereus in hot pursuit, axe in hand, decide that things have gone too far and promptly put an end to this gruesome farce: they transform the trio into birds – a nightingale, a swallow, and a hoopoe (or a hawk in some versions of the legend). In Wertenbaker’s play, it is Philomele who kills Itys, while his mother holds him, and the cannibalism is omitted.

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