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Monica, Blue Dress & Egypt
Wildly Popular Stage Plays Poke Serious Fun at the U.S. Political Scandal
For more than a year, two plays parodying Lewinsky's trysts with President Clinton "Kimo and The Blue Dress" and " Monica, My Wife and I" have been complete sellouts at Cairo theaters.
By Hoda Abdel-Hamid
C A I R O, Egypt, In the Arab world, Egyptians are known for their ability to turn any situation into a farce and spread it throughout the region. New jokes, comedies and plays pop up all the time ridiculing anything from Egypt's new laws and corruption scandals to the ailing leaders of the Middle East. And since Egyptians always appreciate a jibe at America, what more golden opportunity than the Monica Lewinsky scandal? For more than a year, two plays parodying Lewinsky's trysts with President Clinton "Kimo and The Blue Dress" and " Monica, My Wife and I" have been complete sellouts at Cairo theaters. Hitting the Issues, Hard
The directors of both shows agree on at least two things: Monicas exist in every country and society, and that the U.S. government used the scandal to avoid dealing with more important issues such as the Middle East peace process or problems with Iraq. In "Kimo and The Blue Dress" director Feissal Nada accuses the U.S. media of "showing no respect to people who face real problems in the world, and poured all their resources into the coverage of a very banal story that happens in every household."
Actress portraying Monica Lewinsky in "Kimo and The Blue Dress"
Monica, in his play, is an American nurse who travels to Egypt and works for a psychologist. The young nurse falls in love with her employer and after several failed attempts to seduce him decides to go to work dressed in a knockout blue dress. The trick works, and Monica now dreams of marrying her boss. But when she realizes that her lover has no such intentions, Monica decides to wreak havoc on his life.She manages to persuade some of Dr. Kimo's female patients to accuse him of sexual harassment. The story becomes a nationwide news story, and a screen at the back of the stage shows complete coverage of Kimo and Monica's story.
"The American media ignored the real news," says Nada, "for a story that has repeated itself since Eve gave the apple to Adam." A Different Kind of Comedy At the Kasr el Nil Theater nearby, Samir Ghaneim, Egypt's veteran comedian, stars every night in "Monica, My Wife and I" in front of an audience of middle-class Egyptians and rich tourists from Gulf states.
Ghaneim plays the role of a veteran doctor facing financial problems. To solve his problems, Dr. Khamis spreads in the media news of an alleged scientific discovery. His problems seem to come to an end when a rich young woman falls in love with him. But Monica, an old lover, keeps on haunting him from the United States. Monica, who met Khamis at Disneyland, wants to get hold of his research. She manages to have him kidnapped and brought to the United States. Once she discovers the lie, the Egyptian is left penniless, wandering the streets of New York.
Director Ahmed El Ebiary, explaining the motives behind his show, has some harsh words for Monica's compatriots. "Every American woman is a Monica," he says. "Each and every move is driven by further motives. Look at all their divorce lawsuits. All that they want is money, but it is not only American women. All Americans are like that. "His play, though, is more than social commentary, coming across as a mixture of Broadway-style musical and Egyptian comedy with an underlying effort at ridiculing the American government.
One line in the nearly 4-hour-long show provokes hysterical laughter among the crowd: Of skirt-wearing U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, it says, "When she crosses her legs in a meeting, it shifts the focus of the meeting." On the Road, Soon Ali Mahmoud, 32, has seen both plays. The young actor complains that Americans do not understand the Arab world. "They do not put the effort in understanding our culture and keep on doing one mistake after the other, so the only healthy reaction to this is to be ironic and laugh." Mahmoud thinks in Egypt people talk a lot about America because, "They rule our lives and these actors say what most of us think."
In the summer season, both plays will move to the Mediterranean sea resort of Alexandria. Before that, "Kimo and The Blue Dress" is scheduled to travel to France, Italy and some Arab countries. Nada says he was contacted by an American theater, but arrangements have so far been very slow. "I wonder whether they are waiting for Clinton to leave the White House" he says. " I cannot understand how, up to now, there has been no movies or plays around this story. It is the country of freedom of speech after all."
The (Censored) Hollywood of the Middle East
Egypt's show business industry is regarded as the Hollywood of the Middle East. All over the region, people watch Egyptian movies and sitcoms. Any Arab artist wanting to make it big must go through Egypt. The industry is healthy and in 1999 produced more than 900 hours of TV programming. However, as for books, any production is subject to the close scrutiny of censors. A director may be asked to omit any religious or political reference judged as off-limits. On the streets, too, Egyptians rarely criticize the government or its policies. But a few artists have escaped the rules. They are huge stars, comedians, and it is somehow widely accepted that only they can voice public disagreement.
In the '90s, when the United States became the main foreign player in the region, the regime came under fire for not allowing any form of political opposition and adhering too closely to Washington's policies. While brutally repressing Islamic movements, the government allowed more public criticism of the United States in an attempt, analysts said, to channel public discontent about what they regarded as America's double standards when dealing with Middle Eastern issues.
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