Double drama

A piece I wrote about the Malas brothers--charming Syrian twin actor/playwrights--has just finally run in The National. I saw the brothers do an impromptu performance of their play "Melodrama" in Cairo in June and then discovered they had originally performed it (40 times!) in their tiny bedroom in Damascus, and become an underground sensation. Here's an excerpt: 
When the Malas twins were 16, they saw a play together and “decided we must become actors”, Mohammed says over coffee the next day (he could just as well be Ahmed; the twins often wear matching outfits and have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences). But their application to the highly competitive Syrian High Institute of Theatrical Arts was rejected three times.

“They told us: ‘You’re not talented, you won’t be actors.’” 

Syria has a long and illustrious theatrical tradition and a burgeoning movie and TV industry that has resulted in some very popular and well-produced TV serials of late. The brothers auditioned for TV and film parts but never got any major roles (“For TV, you need connections,” Ahmed says), and ended up working full-time at the children’s theatre in Damascus. 

The twins channelled their frustrated ambitions into Melodrama, a play that is as self-referential as you can get: actors portraying actors who spend the play talking about acting. There is no plot, just a whirlwind of allusions to high art and pop culture.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.