note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Lynn Heinemann
"There is only one story. It has always ever been thus."
At least, that's what Scheherazade tells us in Jason Grote's "1001."
However, her single story is a series of never-ending, cliffhangers that she spins to divert her groom, the sultan Shahriyar from his solution to marital infidelity: marry virgins and behead them after the wedding night.
In Grote's deconstruction of the classic "1,001 Arabian Nights," stories morph from the classic fantasies of Sinbad the Sailor and Aladdin and his lamp to the story of Dahna, a Kuwaiti-American graduate student and Alan, a Jew, and their romance, adventures, and conflicts on the island of "Manhat" and in Gaza.
Both lead roles are appealingly played by Lauren Eicher (Scheherazade/Dahna) and Nael Nacer (Shahriyar/Alan), using the simple device of adding/removing a robe and headpiece to delineate their characters and time frame.
With more knots than a Persian carpet, Company One offers a head-spinning take at tale spinning. Directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, the production uses precise lighting effects, an effective soundscape, a minimal set, and nine rolling storage ottomans to evoke both a mystical land of scimitars, veils, and all-powerful kings and a post-modern New York City and Gaza.
The tales have common elements -- from the scent of sandalwood and the many uses of a bolt of blue fabric to the proliferation of stereotypes, such as a virile blackamoor and a fanatical modern-day Zionist.
"Everyone is a collection of stories," we are told, and the characters who flesh out Grote's fantasy include cameo appearances by an over-bearing Alan Dershowitz, a "Thriller" quoting Osama Bin Laden, the "infidel scribe" Gustave Flaubert, and 20th century fantasy spinner Jorge Luis Borges.
A cast that numbers only six plays out those stories. Ruby Rose Fox is especially versatile, utilizing various voices playing everyone from a silly simpering bride to a doomed lisping princess to a belly-dancing prostitute to a modern-day meddlesome sister.
Do the stories form parallels or do they reflect the randomness of a Google/hyperlinked sidetrack from the original query? Even the giant storybook becomes a laptop computer, perhaps reflecting the 21st century method of publishing communications.
Time frames become muddled. The sultan from ancient times likens the hypnotic effect of Scheherazade's eyes to a screen saver. Alan, as the survivor of an apocalyptic attack on New York City, exits a subway tunnel to find himself in a black market in old Persia. Scheherazade promises to tell the tale of Sinbad and Caesar's Palace. When we do learn the story of Sinbad, he tells us that in his adventures of being seven times lost and seven times found, he saw some amazing things: a rhinoceros, a Volkswagen, an Ikea..."
"I obscure more than I illuminate," Jorge Luis Borges tells the one-eyed Sinbad (or is he the Arab?). In many ways, the never-ending plot of "1001" is also confusing, with an ambiguous final scene leading, once again, to further questions.
What happens next?
July 15-August 13
Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theater
(Seen July 16, 2011)