note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
At the Boston premiere of Jason Groteís play, ď1001,Ē stories,events and people from the distant past, not-too-distant past, present and future are mixed together. Itís like watching a series of fireworks erupting one after another, fusing into each other.
As Scheherazade attempted to save her life by telling her husband, the sultan, one story after another, careful to never reveal the end, so his curiosity remains piqued, Grote does the same thing. He piques our interest, then leaves us suspended, waiting for the end that doesnít come.
Welcome to the new age of theater.
Grote is exploring the art of storytelling and is less concerned with the stories heís relating. He opens with a narrator spinning the tale of an angry sultan who catches his wife in adulterous acts with a slave/servant, decides he canít trust women again, so he marries a new bride every night, then beheads her after the wedding night, collecting one head after another in bright red boxes, until....
The narratorís beautiful daughter has concocted a plan to save herself and the sultanís future brides by offering to be his sacrifice bride. However, she colorfully entertains him with endless tales nightly. 21st century Times Square morphs into fantasy ancient Arabia, aided by set designer Cristina Todescoís and costume designer Elisabetta Politoís artistic touches. Playing multiple roles are: Lauren Eicher, Nael Nacer, Ben Gracia, Ruby Rose Fox, Lonnie McAdoo and Hampton Fluker.
Single threads, such as a blue cloth representing a desert blue sky and desired silken fabric, ripple through this kaleidoscope.
Cast members transform into different characters, enacting the tale Scheherazade is telling. The first one involves an incestuous brother and sister whom their sultan father breaks up by tossing his daughter off the tower and threatening the son by suspending him over the side. The son then searches for a mate resembling his beloved sister.
Meanwhile, back at the castle, the stammering sultan hears more. Scheherazade regales him with more tales, but somehow, Gustave Flaubert and Jorge Luis Borges enter this hazy mix, as does Boston legal expert Alan Dershowitz, and Osama bin Laden, during one of his TV appearances. A genie appears, granting a wish after his lamp is rubbed. And Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba also appear briefly.
The castle, with its deep, dark salons, suddenly explodes into the future, a 9/11 attack and an Israeli-Palestinian conflict, injuring Alan, a Jewish New Yorker (who looks like the sultan). Beautiful Kuwaiti college exchange student, Dahna, (who looks like Scheherazade), tends to his wounds. Although her family expects Dahna to enter into an arranged marriage, this unlikely couple falls in love and lives together. Through her sisterís urging, Dahna connects on the Internet with a handsome Arab named Asser, living in London, who intends to visit her in New York.
Did I mention the Palestinian-Israeli conflict crops up somehow during the explosion? And although Alan isnít Israeli, he apologizes for his brethrenís attack. Or something.
As we wade through these shifting scenes that push and pull forward and backward in time, fantasy and reality, we try to make sense out of Groteís play. Thatís work, not entertainment.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour play by Jason Grote, directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian, appearing with Company One Theatre Company through August 13 at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Aug. 13 at 4 p.m. Wild Wednesdays, all tickets, $18; students with IDs, always, $15; pay-what-you-can, minimum, $6, July 31 at 2 p.m.; Thursdays and matinees, $35/$30; Fridays, Saturdays, $38/$33. Visit BostonTheatreScene.com or call 617-933-8600.