By Sandi Durell
This new musical fantasia, produced by The Prospect Theater Company, with book and lyrics by Jason Grote and music by Marisa Michelson, conjures the old and new and suspends reality bringing together “The Arabian Nights,” from Grote’s play 1001, whirling and colliding with contemporary times as it seeks to question and answer the seemingly unanswerable human conflict.
The beautiful theater in the new ART/NY complex, Mezzanine Theatre, provides the setting on a mostly bare stage except for a wooden platform used as a bed, and a wooden box on which to sit, all surrounded by moveable blue see-thru curtains hung on round rods, design by Jason Ardizzone-West, that come alive with Carolyn Wong’s precise lighting as time and space shift.
The Arabian Nights’ tales are limitless but here concentrate on the story of the King Shahryar (strong baritone Ben Steinfeld), when realizing his wife has been unfaithful, beheads her after their first night together and subsequently performs the same ritual on each of his successive wives believing that all women are similar in nature. He marries many virgins and by the following morning they all meet the same ending. That is until the lovely Scheherazade (beautifully nuanced voiced Sepideh Moafi), the Wazier’s daughter, steps up as his next bride. But the clever Scheherazade has other plans in mind as she is a great storyteller and the King loves stories. And so, as she cleans the blood laden rapier, encrusted with the blood of the many virgins, she proceeds to devise a tale that goes on, and on, and on for 1,001 nights, never ending as the King falls in love with her.
The humorous, mocking “One Eyed Arab” – with two eyes, (a lively Graham Stevens) sets the opening time and place in mythical Persia, as the narrative smoothly shifts as explained in the program – – “The Time & Place – Mostly a mythological medieval Persia and New York City in the present and near future, but the piece goes everywhere.”In this other place (New York City), Scheherazade morphs into the role of Dahna, an activist Palestinian woman, and Shahryar is now Alan, a pro Israeli Jew from Brooklyn who has found Dahna quite appealing, each on opposite sides of the political spectrum
There are shattering musical vibrations that literally shake the theater as the now two lovers, feeling the tension of their own individual worlds, engage in “The Chat Song” – each wanting to understand and know more about the other, as we’re swept back to the Palace and the on-going 1001 nights of storytelling to stay alive. Swoosh>>> . . . Alan persists in his efforts to take Dahna to Gaza with him where tragedy ensues and more horror awaits in a future New York City.
The old proverb . . . the more things change, the more they stay the same is very much a focus. Cruelty, fear, racism.
The cast members are a talented bunch of triple threats speedily directed by Erin Ortman including Jen Anaya (Vocals), Ashkon Davaran (Wazier & Others), Chad Goodridge, Yassi Noubahar (Dunyazade,Lubna) and Gabriella Perez (Virgin Bride & Others), with choreography by Karla Puno Garcia. Costumes are by Becky Bodurtha. Kurt Crowley provides the musical direction and orchestrations along with Marisa Michelson who is noted for vocal arrangements & philosophy.
The Prospect Theater Company is dedicated to fostering and showcasing today’s new voices shaping tomorrow’s musicals.
Photos: Richard Termine
One Thousand Nights and One Day – 90 minutes, runs thru April 29
ART/NY Theatres, 502 West 53 St., New York City www.ProspectTheatre.org