Egyptian star Kal Naga stars in 'Decolonizing Sarah: a hurricane play' at The Den Theater in Chicago

'Decolonizing Sarah: a hurricane play', an Uprising Theater production, explores the intersection of racial identity and interpersonal relationships and is the work of playwright and director Samer Al-Saber.
Egyptian star Kal Naga stars in 'Decolonizing Sarah: a hurricane play' at The Den Theater in Chicago

Kal Naga, AKA Khaled Abol Naga, is an Egyptian national treasure, as I wrote back in 2015 on the HuffPost. But like most Egyptian treasures these days, Naga exists outside of the land of the pyramids, and that's not necessarily by his own choice. He has been critical of the policies of president Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and has lived in a self-imposed exile of survival since Al Sisi's ascend into power, while also being active on social media in an effort to promote better human rights in his native Egypt. He has been based in California since 2017.

These days, Naga can be found at The Den Theater in Chicago, in a production written and directed by Samer Al-Saber titled Decolonizing Sarah: a hurricane play, an Uprising Theater production.

The Uprising Theater, founded by Colombia College professor Iymen Chehade, is an important venue, one dedicated to uplifting the Palestinian and MENASA communities of the American diaspora. During this present season, the theater has received support from many, including The Shroud Maker at Chicago Dramatists, Mosque4Mosque at About Face Theatre, and Layalina at The Goodman. Al-Saber's new play presents a welcome addition to Chicago’s cultural spring as exemplified by such brilliant works by, about, and for the MENASA community. This play’s experienced director, playwright, lead actors, including the verified movie star that is Kal Naga, along with its designers, highly accomplished in their craft, bring international professional and personal experiences to the Chicago stage.

A finalist in the prestigious National Playwrights Conference, Samer Al-Saber’s smart, quick-witted, and fast-paced play explores a contemporary representation of cultural and racial identities, and how they intertwine with the complexity of love and relationships.

Starring Kal Naga as Waleed, the play tells the story of two extraordinary human beings in exceptional circumstances. During a category 3 hurricane at an isolated Airbnb, while the Corona pandemic rages on, Waleed and Sarah must confront each other and themselves. Charles lurks as Sarah's racially perfect partner. Dangerous encounters occur with armed neighbors. The hurricane within Sarah and Waleed intertwines with the Atlantic hurricane to force a confession in the eye of the storm. How do they choose when their heart and their politics want different things? Until the final moment, the greater question of their generation persists, will their final choices align with their political and racial visions for a better humanity? Noted for its distinctive dialog, this suspenseful play spotlights the instability of love across racial divides, the brutality of indiscretion, and the psychology of injustice in American life. Speaking to her refugee partner, Sarah (Maren Rosenberg) admits: “ world is horrible to people like you.” Decolonizing Sarah takes us to the epicenter of a hurricane to witness the struggle of “two warriors for a better unknown” as they confront a politically divided America, Sarah’s demons, and Waleed’s precarious existence.

Naga is no stranger to playing characters who question our very point of view of them. In the 2014 Eyes of a Thief, he played a Palestinian sniper just released from prison, who provokes in the audience a sense of understanding, even a justification for his choices. In Ayten Amin's 2013 title Villa 69 Naga played a terminally ill architect who, while living happily in solitude, is forced to alter the way he lives when his sister and grandson move in with him. Once again, we get him, wholeheartedly, so much so that, when I walked out of the theater in Abu Dhabi, after the film's screening, I could feel his pain, his illness, deeply and personally.

Decolonizing Sarah: a hurricane play will run through April 22nd at The Den Theatre. Shows run weekly on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 PM CST, with Sunday matinees at 3:00 PM. Tickets for this show are $29 and can be purchased through The Den Theatre website and box office, or via the Uprising Theater event page. Because Uprising believes art is a necessity, not a luxury, they set aside five pay what-you-can tickets available at the door for every show on a first-come, first-serve basis.

For more info, check out the Uprising Theater's website.

Top images of Kal Naga playing Waleed and Maren Rosenberg playing Sarah by © JC Widman, used with permission.

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