Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews
 

THE ARABIAN NIGHT OF THEATER

 

picture - 1001Theater Review

by Kestryl Lowrey

published November 13, 2007

 

1001

now playing Off Off Broadway at the Baruch Performing Arts Center

through November 17

 

The story begins with an usher claiming that your tickets are not valid for the section of the theatre you were told to sit in.  This same usher then tells you off and threatens you with physical violence when you point out that the seats you were moving toward were, in fact, labeled with a piece of tape displaying your name.  The usher stomps petulantly away as the house lights start to dim and… Oh wait. Apparently this interlude was not intended to be a part of the production at all; it does not appear to be included in Jason Grote’s unpredictable, multi-layered script.  It’s unfortunate the way that the front-of-house staff can impact one’s initial opinions of a piece. 

 

But… moving on.

 

It is difficult to encapsulate 1001 in a few words.  Perhaps this is not surprising, considering that the production showcases the storytelling of Scheherazade (artfully enlivened by Roxanna Hope), telling the infinite and multi-stranded story of everything that ever has been or ever will be.  A script this frenetic has dangerous possibilities, but in the hands of Ethan McSweeny, the pulse and momentum remain controlled but engaging.  McSweeny has located creative solutions to occasionally difficult or ambiguous stage directions, helping to give shape to a piece which otherwise could easily become too amorphous in its breadth. 

 

The plot is simultaneously intricate and simple; the modern relationship of Dahna and Alan mirrors that of Scheherazade and Shahriyar (Matthew Rauch) in many ways, but that is not the point of this production.  The theme emerges, much more broadly, as storytelling—the ways that the fabric of the world is created, unraveled, and recreated through the telling of tales.  The heavy narration and labyrinthine wordplay embedded in the script is managed well by the cast as a whole, though particular note goes to the humor injected by Jonathan Hova’s One-Eyed Arab and John Livingstone Rolle’s Jorge Luis Borges. 

 

Like many well-designed sets, the art of the space does not fully register until near the conclusion of the piece.  Rachel Hauck has wrapped the stage in graffiti tags which are clearly intended to be words, though the specific words themselves are unintelligible.  These words, it later seems possible, are a representation of the stories that Scheherazade tells—the stories that must exist as evidence of the reality of the world. 

 

The script, the directing, the acting, and the set all stack up to an impressive production, but still it feels as if something might be lacking.  In exploring the Israel-Palestine conflict and the West’s perception of Arab culture, the play sets itself up to contribute to a dialogue which stretches beyond the doors of the theatre and into the fabric of daily life in the twenty-first century.  Beyond a few post-apocalyptic implications, however, 1001 contributes little to the ongoing dialogues of global conflict and cultural identity.  It is possible that, rather than make a specific statement, Grote was trying to do what all good storytellers do: ask questions, instead of answer them. 

 

kestryl.lowrey @ stageandcinema.com

 

 

 
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