This play is powerful for a couple of reasons: first, it is an adaptation of Naguib Mahfouz’s Adrift on the Nile; second, this could be any group of contemporary friends in a world of asymmetrical war, extreme political positions and the resurgence of religious influence on national politics. These characters could just as easily be gathered in America, with similar careers, life disappointments and personal relationships.
Anyone who is familiar with the great Mahfouz’s impressive body of work (The Cairo Trilogy, for example) will appreciate the complexity of modern-day characters who meet regularly on a houseboat to party and put a more frivolous face on an increasingly disturbed world.
The revelers are in their 30s and 40s, a mix of males and females: an auditor in the Ministry of Health, a lawyer, a copywriter, an editor of a weekly news magazine who is a Coptic Christian, the wife of a wealthy developer, a film actor, a Nubian servant, and a freelance journalist in her 20s. They meet in a Nile River house boat in downtown Cairo in 2007.
Their evenings punctuated by drinking and pot smoking, these old friends spend hours avoiding the troubling realities of their times, each vaguely dissatisfied with his job or the status quo but remaining in stasis, supported by the inactivity of the others.
When a strictly observant young woman enters the group, there is a subtle shift in alliances, her beauty attracting the notice of the men, her religious-based politics a cause for reflection.
Samara’s assumptions are discussed by the group in context with her youth and fundamentalist leanings; she is the catalyst for breaking these associates from their alcohol and drug-induced suspension. But unpredictable events occur, and affiliations are exposed: no one is who he has pretended to be. In a rude awakening that causes all - including Samara - to question motives and loyalties, circumstances demand more practical solutions if they are to survive.
In this clash of expedience and ideals, this group of friends is stripped bare of flaws and pretensions before one another. Still, they must negotiate a way to move forward, shedding no-longer-useful personas for more authentic roles in an unpredictable environment.
Although the names are regional, the struggles of these individuals are universal, a testament to Mahfouz’s ability to concentrate on individual characteristics and the politics of personal choice. Change the names and this could be any gathering of like-minded people increasingly pressured by the demands of daily decisions, discarding old ideas for a more meaningful, honest existence.