By Colin Douglas
Travel can be kind of expensive these days.
Most often one must tap into his savings to be able to afford a vacation that will take him to romantic and mystical locales on the other side of the planet. But this Silk Road Rising’s 90-minute journey through the Arab World, guided by Egyptian-American storyteller, musician and dancer, Karim Nagi, can be a money-saving alternative trip that will yield a fantastic educational and cultural experience.
In Detour World, the affable, young Nagi is so engaging and detail-oriented, he makes the theatergoer feel as if his one-man theatrical presentation is an actual, real-life tour of all things and places Arabian. Through his art, we learn many interesting and unusual facts and bits of information through his storytelling. For example, in addition to Karim’s beloved homeland, Egypt is just one of 22 countries of the Arab World, as defined by the League of Arab States. Karim unites all of these countries through their history, language, culture and, most importantly, their music and rhythms.
Seen through the eyes of ordinary people, members of the Arab working class, Nagi portrays several different characters. He shows us how their drive and determination to achieve their dreams of a better life, often as American immigrants, seems unattainable. Yet these wonderful, hard-working folks keep trying, despite all odds. We meet another tour guide in his tuk-tuk, a gifted street musician, a talented restaurant cook and other fascinating characters, who haven’t given up on their goals or demand for economic justice.
A highlight of this entertaining travelogue features Karim’s humorously cynical look at how the Arab World has been depicted by Hollywood. Employing old photographs and film clips, courtesy of projections designer, Anthony Churchill, Nagi shows how the American film industry has often offensively trivialized and exaggerated his culture. But Karim sets the record straight.
Another highlight of this one-man presentation is Karim’s incomparable musical talent. He demonstrates the various unique rhythms of all 22 countries as he beats upon the darabouka, a strangely-shaped Arabian drum, and an Arabic tambourine, called a riq. He skillfully demonstrates his expertise with the finger cymbals; then he strums upon the long-necked lute, called a buzuq, and the shorter-necked stringed lavta, to provide a soundtrack that’s evocative and authentic. Karim’s skill with all of these instruments is unbelievable and he uses these musical interludes, including a communal sing-along, to transition between locales.
Enthusiastically directed by Anna C. Bahow, Nagi is a very engaging performer of unbelievable talent, passion and amiability. Making the most of a realistically recreated Arabian street scene, created by Designer Samia Malik, and festooned with a myriad of authentic-looking props by Abigail Cain and costume pieces by Brenda Winstead, this is an educational and entertaining travelogue that makes the audience feel like they’ve actually traveled all over the Arab World.
Silk Road Rising presents “Detour Guide” through April 7 at the lower level of The Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.