1001 at Collaboraction | Theater review
In this stunningly successful recasting of The Arabian Nights, Grote seamlessly blends riffs on self-preserving storyteller Scheherazade with a present-day tale of love’s uncertainty. The Brooklyn-based writer plays his hand shrewdly: A long opening sequence has the appearance of a relatively straightforward adaptation, aside from King Shahriyar’s shaky connection with his vocabulary—he has a habit of losing his words and, it seems, his place in time.
As Scheherazade’s tales twist and pile upon one another, however, she suddenly picks up a thread that’s set not so long ago or far away: New York City, 2001, and the romance between Jewish Jersey boy Alan and West Bank–born Palestinian Dahna (played by Joel Gross and Mouzam Makkar, who double as Shahriyar and Scheherazade). Weaving in and out of stories of Sinbad and djinns appear refracted glimpses of the modern lovers negotiating the lines between their cultural and individual identities, sometimes wondering which are truly driving their relationship. Meanwhile, a different kind of Arab-Western conflict looms in the coming September 11 attacks.
The swiftness and slyness with which Grote shifts gears in this 2004 work can be head-spinning in the best sense; he flips tales and genres with ease, moving from slapstick to somber in the blink of an eye. Bockley’s fluid direction, marked by striking visuals, aids and abets; clever use of found-object props and AJ Tarzian’s dilapidated subway set enhance the out-of-time sense. The earnest Gross and compelling Makkar, supported by a strong ensemble, prove masterful storytellers themselves.