Al Hakim's cockroaches reach California.

Author:Twair, Pat McDonnell
Position:Egyptian author Tewfik al Hakim's play entitled Fate of a Cockroach

Cockcroaches are among the earth's oldest living creatures and have been a nuisance to humans since housekeeping began, writes Pat McDonnell Twair. They may seem curious subjects on which to base a play but not for Tewfik al Hakim, renowned as Egypt's foremost author until his death in 1987 at the age of 89.

Tewfik al Hakim wrote his three-act play, Fate of a Cockroach, in 1956 during a time of severe censorship in Egypt. The satirical comedy was set at an unspecified time in an unnamed country where public office is an avenue to privilege and where cockroaches (symbolising Egypt?) are too disorganised to defend themselves against much smaller militant ants (Israel?)

The United States premiere of the play was recently staged at the University of California Los Angeles under the direction of Professor Beverly Robinson. The performances were the culmination of a 10 year dream to produce Al Hakim's masterpiece for American audiences.

"Most Americans are naive about Arab writers and the fact that some of the finest pieces of world literature come from the Middle East," Professor Robinson said. The ideal way to expose Americans to the Arab world and to another level of consciousness, she decided, was to stage Fate of a Cockroach.

The UCLA production - one of eight offered by the UCLA Theatre Department during its 1992-93 season - marked the first time all three acts have been performed together. Yet it seems incongruous that the micro world of insects in Act I could be performed alone without contrasting it to the human perspectives of Acts II and III.

In 1983, while on leave from her faculty position at UCLA, Professor Robinson visited Al Hakim several times a week over a two-month period and discussed the possibility of producing the play in the United States. He accepted the project with great enthusiasm.

Costumes and set designs of the student production are worthy of any Broadway show. More than two months were invested in sewing costumes created by student Roz Moore. The most fantastic are the amber and cinnamon hued cockroach ensembles combining sequins, feathers, shells, and mirrors with chiffon, velvet and quilted fabrics. Masks, face paint and long red antennae enhance the cockroach "look" perfected by the actors' jerky head and leg movements.

Moore's black and dappled grey ant costumes replete with antennaed heads and insect tails are ingenious. And it is only at UCLA that the ants took on a "Soul Train" attitude as they stomped in...

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