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You’d think, having dispatched the Synetic Theater’s sumptuous staging of A Midsummer Night’s Dream last week, that a weary critic might catch a break—that local companies might go easy on the adjectival requirements with offerings nice and simple. Some comfortingly wordy Schiller, maybe. Or a cheerful, chewy evening with Mr. O’Neill.
Alas: Local companies not caring much about a critic’s sleep schedule, or his overtaxed vocabulary, the week’s theatergoing schedule served up another riot of excess. Truth be told, though, it’s a pretty damn entertaining batch of excess.
The most intellectually ambitious of this lot is probably 1001, Jason Grote’s dreamy, nested-narratives rethink of the Scheherazade fable, which weaves a strain of modern existential angst into the fabric of those ancient tales. Things get underway in King Shahriar’s Persia, as usual, but once the storyteller lady (a briskly assertive Yasmin Tuazon) starts spinning her endless yarns, several of them turn out to be set in climes even more exotic than Ali Baba’s cave, an island called Man Hat being one of them.
The evening will turn chiefly on an intercultural relationship, this one between an American-born Jewish guy (Rex Daugherty, sweetly expressive as Alan, curious and flummoxed as Shahriar) and the Palestinian-American woman (Tuazon again, intriguingly uncertain as Dahna) he meets during an Alan Dershowitz lecture at Columbia University.
Yes, Dershowitz turns up, alongside Osama bin Laden and Gustave Flaubert (in a brothel, natch) and the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, whose endlessly forked narratives aren’t the least among 1001’s inspirations. And yes, this being an Arabian-rooted fantasia that makes its way to New York, there is a cataclysm—though the playwright, and Randy Baker’s very fine Rorschach cast, handle it so gently that what might have felt manipulative feels instead like a graceful act of public mourning.
But then Grote’s organizing principle is, as Dahna puts it, the notion that “There is only one story…comprised of every word that has ever been or will ever be uttered.” In the version he tells, that’s a unifying principle, a gratifyingly humane way of approaching the impossibly complicated narrative our world makes for itself each day.