An extended moment of stillness at the beginning of the outstanding solo show Mubarak's Niece (La nipote di Mubarak), during which actor Marco Vergani is seated on the floor and delivers lines from beneath a burqa, blending, in the performance at Midtown's TheaterLab, into the white walls and floor of the room, gives way to near nonstop movement through the rest of the production, Vergani circling the intimate space in a way that heightens the intensity of feeling for the audience. In a similar way, an insignificant event–the show's first-person narrator needing a place to stop after work for some food in 2009 Italy–sets in motion what becomes a significant friendship, one which movingly frames larger political and human issues. Mubarak's Niece, performed in Italian with English supertitles, is presented this month as part of the 2023 In Scena! Italian Theater Festival, taking place throughout NYC's five boroughs from May 1st through 16th, with free admission to all events.
The title of the show is a kind of ironic payoff rather than a title character, and the show centers the relationship between its narrator and Abdul, an Egyptian immigrant who runs a kebab shop where a self-selected crowd of locals and immigrants mix and in which Abdul, who has a column in the neighborhood newspaper, treats stories as a combination of gifts and currency. The narrator works at a radio station with Ciddo, his more politically informed sound tech, who chafes against the enforced blandness of their programming (a milder parallel of sorts to governmental censorship in nations such as Egypt). A particular question about Abdul's homeland leads to some friction with the narrator, but it is the Egyptian uprising against President Hosni Mubarak, who had by then held power for thirty years, that will have the biggest impact on the men's relationship.
Valentina Diana's script is evocative and heart-rending (and that's us experiencing it through supertitles), and the use of sound is sparse but effective. Under Vinicio Marchioni's crisp direction and with only a few small props–a newspaper, a photo–Vergani is fabulous, giving flesh to multiple, clearly but groundedly differentiated characters and conjuring a real sense of place throughout. The show is bookended by a consideration of the disconnect between caring for others/the Other in theory and in reality: we can't, in a practical sense, love everyone, the show posits, but that does not excuse the risk of not caring, especially about those whom we see as different. We defy anyone who sees the beautiful Mubarak's Niece not to care about these characters–and consequently, one hopes, about their real-world counterparts.