Beverly FriendREVIEWSTheatre Reviews

1001 – Collaboraction

By Jason Grote1001 by collaboraction

Directed by Seth Bockley

Produced by Collaboraction

At Chopin Theatre

Collaboraction presents titillating,

modern twist on Arabian Nights

As a storyteller, Jason Grote has one advantage over Scheherazade — a brilliant cast to enact his madcap version of the Arabian Nights.

Grote’s version divides 1001 into two separate, rather unequal parts. The first act focuses on the frame of the original Arabian Nights set in ancient Persia. In reaction to his queen’s adultery, King Shahriyar (Joel Gross) now weds and beds a virgin each evening, and beheads her at dawn. Sprightly Carly Ciarrochi plays the one sacrificial virgin we meet – and she is more than enough: garbed for her wedding, like a child playing dress up, she sobs, gulps and wails as she faces her destiny. King Shahriyar doesn’t appear very threatening, a dim bulb whose speech halts in confusion as he mixes up “unicorns and eunuchs;” “genital, gentile and gentle;” “blast furnace and blasphemous.”

Enter Scheherazade (stunning Mouzam Makkar) with her plan to forestall the king by intriguing him with a new and fascinating story each evening.  That’s the frame, but the stories themselves have varied over time. Now it is Grote’s turn.

The excellent ensemble takes on a whole host of characters, — first from early versions, later from fact as well as fiction.  They illustrate the original stories, before moving into modern world. The six successfully master a total of 28 roles.  H.B. Ward becomes a one-eyed Arab, a slave master, Sinbad the Sailor, a Djinn, and – amazingly — Alan Dershowitz.  Ciarrochi moves from the virgin bride to become both Scheherazade’s sister, then becomes a very sexy courtesan who captures the interest of Gustave Flaubert.  Edgar Miguel Sanchez adds to the Flaubert role with his depictions of various Arabs as well as an orthodox Jewish student. Antonio Brunetti rounds out the cast with roles that include the king’s vizier, the blind author Jorge Luis Borges, a horrible monster, and Osama Ben Laden. Even the large tome containing the stories finds a new incarnation as a laptop computer.

The chemistry between Makkar and Gross becomes electric in the second act when the two evolve from their roles as Scheherazade and the King to become a highly romantic couple: Dahna (a modern Arab girl) and her Jewish boyfriend, Adam.

Throughout, the emphasis is on stories and their power. We are all composed of stories, Dahna tells Adam. Stories tell who we are, define our behavior, and explain our lives.  They also can confuse us – and this does happen in the play. The sheer number of tales, the time shifts and the rapidity of exposition is dazzling – providing a challenging intellectual maze. It would take more than one viewing to capture and unravel all the sidelights and nuances.

By all means, see this Chicago premiere – see it twice!


Beverly Friend

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Date Reviewed: Sept. 16, 2010

Collaboration at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 312-226-9633, tickets $15-$25 ($15 for students), Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m. through Oct 9. Additional performance Monday, Oct 4 at 7:30 p.m.

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