Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Arabian Nights"

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note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Larry Stark

"Arabian Nights"

Adapted by Dominic Cooke
Directed by Daniel Gidron

Scenic and Puppetry Design and Painter David Fichter
Assistant Designer, Puppet Master Will Cabell
Composer/Sound Design by Kareem Roustom
Lighting Design by Karen Perlow
Costume Design by Leslie Held
Choreography and Movement by Judith Chaffee
Fight Captain Ramona Lisa Alexander
Assistant to the Director Vahdat Yeganeh
Assistant Stage Manager Brian Cummins
Stage Manager Dominique D. Burford


2nd Wife, Marjanah, Maid, Merchant, Girl, Amina, Eldest Sister, Old Woman, Head Cook, Ensemble

Dinarzad, Kasim's Wife, Druggist, Tailor's Wife, Hangman, Page, Merchant 1, Bride, Customer 2, Parazide, Ensemble

Vizier, Captain, Doctor, Es-Sindibad, Haroun Al-Rashid, King's Vizier, Dervish, Ensemble

Shahrazad, Chief of Police, Sorceress, Youngest Sister, Talking Bird, Queen, Ensemble

Jester, Baba Mustapha, Headsman, Begger, Baker, Steward, Ensemble

Servant, Kasim, Ali Baba's Son, Tailor, Watchman, Porter, Sidi 1, Bahman, Ensemble

Slave, Ali Baba, Steward, Ship, Abu Hassan, Sidi 2, Perviz, Ensemble

Shahrayar, Ghoul, King, Ensemble

Queen, Ali's Wife, Doctor's Wife, King, Merchant 2, Merchant 3, Marriage Broker, Mother, Customer 1, Second Sister, Steward's Wife, Ensemble

I have had a Magical night of theater --- but before I tell you about it, I wish to tell a tale of my own:

My life started in a little, square stone two-room school so close I could walk home for lunch every day. On one particular afternoon intead of classes, people came and set before us a marionette-stage probably little bigger than today's big t-v screeens, and we watched a story. I'm not sure of the plot, for this was many centuries ago, but one thing I remember: when the ragged hero of that tale rubbed a lamp there was a sudden flash and rush of smoke, and there calmly knelt in a colorful turban a huge djinni calmly asking what the tiny man required of him. It was actual decades later, recalling that afternoon, that I realized that this huge djinni was actually a plump young man with no shirt talking to a puppet only inches tall. That was my first experience of the magic live theater can bring into the world. It was some seventy-four years or so ago, but I have never forgotten.

Tonight, that magic came into my life again.

Between these two I have seen many tales told on many stages but this one made me aware of how little need be shown to make a tale come alive, yet how much precise detail it takes to make that tale perfect. In this big square space, what carries people to the fabled past of "Araby" is color and texture and light. On a vibrantly alive Persian carpet barefoot figures dressed in whisps and sumptuous gowns flow from role to role like water over pebbles. A galloping menacing horde of muffle men fling their black capes over their heads and instantaneously become heaps of beaten gold. A listening sister whirls about and is for an instant a wife, a merchant, a hangman, a bride. What separates a vizier from a dervish is a quick cloak and an attitude. A man walks onto the stage wearing a big full-sailed ship like a hat upon his head, an eagle swoops down to carry off a man, and a great rukh flies shrieking by whose egg itself is big enough for a man to sit upon. Wonder upon wonder spills across that stage only to vanish to all eyes but those of memory.

Even the stories, some of them, are not new but they are made new by the telling in new ways. The king who kills his new wife every wedding-morning sprawls on soft cushions as enthralled by tales as any in the audience, until he feels himself join in the tale himself, as any audience must to know that story true. The flitting figures ARE what they say they are, do what legend or fable requires, and then move on. And time stands still. An hour, a lifetime dances past in half a dozen guises and plots and images.

Tonight I too left my body and my mind behind to join a cast of nine becoming sixty-eight or so new individuals. I heard old tales come new again, and laughed with delight with my eyes streaming tears. There were old friend's faces under new names, and a babble of eye-shining wonder filled the act-break. I was in a theater again, and alive as I could be nowhere else.

I have seen many plays since that djinni appeared to me in the smoke, and one thing I have learned: in whatever form and whatever medium, when well told, ALL stories are true!


"Arabian Nights" (17 November - 31 December)
@ Central Square Theatre, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, CAMBRIDGE MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide