1001 by Collaboraction – a remount

By Jason Grote1001 by Jason Grote at Collaboration

Directed by Seth Bockley

At Collaboraction Theatre, Chicago

Ambitious mixture of styles confuses more than enlightens

I finally saw Collaboration’s hit show 1001 at their new digs at the Flat Iron Building at North and Damen in Chicago.  Beverly Friend loved the September, 2010 production (http://chicagocritic.com/1001-collaboration/) that is virtually the same as the one I attended. We have vastly different views of 1001. Read hers to get another take on 1001.

While I found the work of the entire cast as energetic, innovative, and stylish, I found the storytelling confusing, muddled, and incomplete.  Too much movement, too many scene changes, and many story overlaps marred the production. Both playwright Jason Grote and director Seth Bockley tried to do too much both visually, stylistically, and verbally. Too much of any ingredient can spoil the stew.

1001 by Jason Grote

The press notes state what the production was trying to do:

“Sexy and surreal, “1001” is a theatrical mash-up that mixes Middle East politics with a modern tale of young love, asking the question “Can passion conquer history?” A six-actor ensemble plays a dizzying variety of roles, including the fabled princess Scheherezade, a Palestinian businessman, Sindbad the sailor, an American Jew named Alan, Gustave Flaubert, a princess with a lisp and even Osama Bin Laden. Featuring Collaboraction’s signature blend of modern media and visceral storytelling, this moving and hilarious intimate production promises to take audiences on a theatrical journey into uncharted territory.”

What turned me off to the production was the bold choice that Grote and Bockley made in the early scenes. The campy, almost silly, depiction of Shahriyar (Joel Gross)- the king who lives to have sex with virgins than behead them only made him a caricature who is so full of malapropisms  that he comes off as mentally challenged making him less than a villain and more of a sap.  Playing the early scenes as  silent film melodrama came off as over-the-top camp rather than biting satire.

The change of times from ancient Persian to contemporary and the morphing of stories into other stories made for needless confusion that quickly became tedious. The first act seemed like it lasted for three hours even though it wasn’t. 1001 could use a 20 minute trim.

The cast sure worked hard changing characters often and hitting their cues and evoking satire, humor or drama as suited in each scene. I can’t remember seeing finer ensemble work than this crew offered. Mouzan Makkar ( Scheherazade), H. B. Ward (One-Eyed Arab), Joel Gross (Shahriyar), Carly Ciarrocchi (Dunyazade), Antonio Brunetti (Wazir) and Edgar Sanchez (Yahya) – each had several excellent moments depicting the intriguing characters from the stories.  The bold  staging and the sheer stage craft of the performers gave 1001 a quality theatricality that is hard to resist.  The performances carried the over-produced show.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: July 13, 2011

For more info on 1001 page on  www.theatreinchicago.com

At Collaboraction Theatre, 1579 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL, call 312-226-9633, www.collaboraction.org, Thursday thru Sunday at 8 pm, Mondays on August 8 & 22 at 8 pm, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through August 28, 2011