FATE OF A COCKROACH , by Tawfik al-Hakim, adapted by Ronald Weihs and Emad Nafeh, directed by Weihs, with Tony Adah, Shannon Kitchings, Pasha Mckenley, Muoi Nene and Kurt Spenrath. Presented by AfriCan Theatre Ensemble and Artword at Artword (75 Portland). Runs to April 17, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $25, stu/srs $15, Sunday pwyc. 416-366-7723 ext 290. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Scientists say cockroaches are among the oldest living things, and will probably survive us humans. But in Egyptian playwright Tawfik al-Hakim 's Fate Of A Cockroach , those insects share all our fallibilities and emotional crises.
A comedy about power and relationships, al-Hakim's play begins near a bathtub - John Williams 's projected cartoons neatly capture the setting and some of the action - where a self-proclaimed cockroach king lords it over the others because of his long moustache. His political, religious and scientific staff fight among themselves, ponder how to handle the ant problem (called antist aggression by the roaches) and wonder about the big white mountain that towers above them.
The second act introduces the married couple whose bathroom the roaches inhabit. Their fighting parallels that of the roach king and queen (in both, the woman usually gets the upper hand), and al-Hakim goes for domestic laughs rather than political satire when the couple get caught up in the activity of their tiny insect neighbours.
Director Ronald Weihs rightly takes a broad approach to the comic elements, giving it moments of clown, but his slow pacing in the first act sometimes works against the script's laughs. Kurt Spenrath as the king and later a doctor is heavy-handed, but the rest of the entertaining cast catch the proper tone, especially Shannon Kitchings as the bored queen and a haughty cook, and Pasha Mckenley , whose delicious comic style and timing bring her characters - especially the wife, who pulls her husband's strings like a talented puppet master - to vivid life.