The Arabian Nights
Mary Zimmerman’s 1992 production of The Arabian Nights at Lookingglass established the director’s gift for theatrical spectacle in the service of classic adaptation, a gift she again displayed in her triumphant Metamorphoses and Odyssey. Wisely eschewing the flying carpets and genies of Disneyfied imagination, Zimmerman located the crux of this epic fabric of tales in its celebration and examination of narrative itself. For all its sumptuous visuals—Daniel Ostling’s glittering set design, awash with carpets and antique lamps, and Mara Blumenfeld’s lavish costumes—Lookingglass’s revival keeps the focus firmly where it belongs: on the hypnotic power of storytelling, a power that literally preserves Scheherezade (Lamson) from the murderous, misogynistic wrath of King Shahryar (Artzberger).
The Arabian Nights blends a varied palette of tones from its source. The first act emphasizes comedy: Riotous set pieces arise from the bawdy tale of “The Jester and His Wife.” After intermission, the play turns pensive, dominated by the moody story of Aziz and his drive to impersonate the great caliph Harun al-Rashid. Although the framing tale of Scheherezade suffers from relatively distanced performances by Lamson and Artzberger, the ensemble is exceptional. Performers including Barzin Akhavan, Nicole Shalhoub and Andrew White pivot gracefully from slapstick to sublime poetry. Despite a closing reminder that 1992’s invocation of war-torn Baghdad skies remains tragically relevant, Zimmerman’s Nights affirms above all the enduring fascination of these stories.