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Review: HOTTER THAN EGYPT at ACT

World Premiere play from Seattle favorite Yussef El Guindi.

Review: HOTTER THAN EGYPT at ACT
Paul Morgan Stetler, Jen Taylor,
Naseem Etemad, and Wasim No'mani in
ACT Theatre's Hotter Than Egypt.
Photo credit: Hannah Delon

Seattle has been honored with a number of new works from Seattle based author and ACT Core Company member Yussef El Guindi. Each one examining cultural differences that face immigrants especially Arab-Americans and Muslim Americans. And while his current World Premiere at ACT, "Hotter Than Egypt", certainly deals with those cultural divides, it also wonderfully shows the cultural similarities between the races and does it with tons of humor.

In the piece, Maha and Seif (Naseem Etemad and Wasim No'mani) are personal tour guides in Egypt. Well, Maha is, but she's training her fiancé, Seif, to take over for her so she can pursue her dream of being a fashion designer. For the past year or so, Maha has been working with American businessman Paul (Paul Morgan Stetler) and now both she and Seif are getting ready to guide Paul and his wife Jean (Jen Taylor) who has come over to Egypt to celebrate their 24th wedding anniversary. But with the brash Paul and the outspoken Seif in the mix, it's no wonder that underlying secrets in both couple's relationships start coming to light.

What El Guindi has done here is to take a typical relationship comedy trope and mix it in with his standard cultural examinations to thought provoking and hilarious effect. He does this by pointing out that relationships, no matter where they are, tend toward similar issues. There's nothing complicated or outlandish here, just regular people trying their best to be happy. Probably the most interesting bit he uses is the language barrier and he uses it to a stunningly effective and funny level as when any of the local people are speaking English, they do so in their Arabic accents but when they speak Arabic, they drop any Arabic accent and simply speak English. It's kind of brilliant gag that is introduced early on and never failed to get a laugh and still be crystal clear as to what was happening.

Review: HOTTER THAN EGYPT at ACT
Jen Taylor and Wasim No'mani in
ACT Theatre's Hotter Than Egypt.
Photo by Hannah Delon

The effectiveness of this bit and the rest of the play in general is owing to El Guindi's fantastic gift for dialog but also to director John Langs and his fantastic cast. Langs has, in his true fashion, managed to keep the pace and energy alive in the piece, which is not always so easy in the round and in scenes with a max of four people talking. He manages to make every scene engage and never once venture into the realm of stale or staid.

Stetler brings alive the clueless, ugly-American, husband you love to hate. He infuses him with such affability that sometimes you're almost on his side. Almost. As the unfortunate victim of her husband's oafishness, Taylor brings in so many wonderful layers to Jean making her such a vibrant and complex character and a joy to watch. No'mani takes the plain talking Seif and takes him so far beyond someone who can't keep his thoughts to himself. He's likable and funny but also manages a sweet vulnerability and you can't help but root for him. Etemad has such an incredible gift for timing and outstanding stage presence that you are compelled to watch her every move. She even tackles Maha's questionable decisions and makes them completely rational. And I must mention Ahmad Kamal who took on several small roles and did so with tons of heart and wit lending his final moments perfectly to a very sweet and hopeful ending.

ACT has stuck with the works of El Guindi for several years now and it's no small wonder as he keeps bringing us gems like this one. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ACT's World Premiere of "Hotter Than Egypt" an exuberant YAY. A fantastic way for ACT to kick off their 2022 season.

"Hotter Than Egypt" performs at ACT through February 20th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.



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