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A CurtainUp Review
Mary Zimmerman's The Arabian Nightsis an adaptation of the ancient tale of Scheherezade, who each night cleverly distracted her murdering husband with stories in order to live another night. Terrence J. Nolen's production wouldn't have kept her alive 'til the next morning, never mind a thousand and one nights. The play's atmosphere desperately wants whiffs of the mysterious East and of the past that lives in fairytales. Instead, things seem to have been deliberately toned down, resulting in a show that is neither particularly dramatic nor very compelling, and lacks the richness and intensity required to keep audience interest piqued for over two hours.
If this is going to be physical theater, it should be more physical. The production wants more color -- certainly more music, more danger, and more sinuous action, with more exotic costumes, and lighting that teases the stage with contrast and color saturation. But the action, costumes, and lighting come off a bit bland. Among the few Eastern-looking props are lovely decorative lights hung so far above the thrust stage that they are practically out of sight-out of mind and hardly read as intrinsic to the set. Glowing orange lamps, lowered for a few scenes, are not nearly enough. It could be that the portion of the audience seated head-on, dead center gets a more holistic experience, but with a severely thrust stage, most audience members look across an almost bare stage, with each other as backdrop.
Kristyn Chouiniere's Scheherezade is a well-scrubbed American schoolgirl, rather than a beguiling temptress. Talented lead actor Arthur T. Acuna, the fine Reciter in last year's Pacific Overtures, is under-utilized. As Shahryar, he must spend much time watching on the sidelines as stories are presented to him. Members of the large cast play multiple roles in the various tales, some very well. Dave Jadico and Larry Grant Malvern stand out. The best-known tales of The Arabian Nights are not represented in the play. The ones that have been chosen are interesting enough, and some are funny, but they are not seductively presented despite their adult themes.
At the end, air raid sirens of contemporary Baghdad intrude on this lukewarm evocation of the old Persian culture. Although the sad reminder of today's Iraq doesn't fit, it adds a belated thought-provoking dimension. If only the production were visually and aurally richer, and the action and physicality had been pushed further. Mildly entertaining, but not powerful, The Arabian Nights needs more of everything.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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