Jason Grote’s 1001, now playing at Pasadena’s Theatre at Boston Court after premiering last year at the Denver Center Theatre Company, is a kaleidoscopic spin on The Arabian Nights, and careens from ancient Persia to modern Columbia University, with drop-in appearances by Jorge Luis Borges, Alan Dershowitz and Gustave Flaubert. A wonderful cast of six play dozens of characters in director Michael Michetti’s finely tuned “orientalist” production of 1001. Michetti also designed the set, which consists of a few platforms rimmed by towering piles of books — sheaths of words that dwarf the characters below. Yes, this is a story about telling stories, not in the “Listen, my child, once upon a time” genre of sugary escapism, nor in the “Beware the woods” style of fables of a world fraught with danger. Michetti and Grote serve up melding worlds of ancient Persia and modern New York City in which dozens of somewhat flustered characters tackle as best they can those looming piles of literature that describe and define them — centuries of legends leading to preconceptions and prejudices that come from books so old that their words could be mistaken for DNA. The only thing that could dislodge those towering stacks is a terrorist blast, and it does. Some of those books come tumbling down. New stories are written from their ash. Constitutions reconsidered; who we are, redefined. “You change the story of a person or a nation, and you change that person or that nation,” remarks Dahna (Monika Jolly), the Columbia student from Kuwait, seeking her MFA in literature. Shortly after Dahna meets Jewish student Alan (John Sloan) for the first time, he finds himself physically defending her from a Zionist heckler (Korken Alexander). Later, they survive sniper fire in Palestine. While Dahna seeks her independence in the USA, having moved in with Alan, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to a Saudi playboy in London, who courts her via the Internet. A friend of her father’s, he’s at the center of her family’s attempts to snag her into an arranged marriage.“We’re trapped in this grand narrative,” explains Dahna to the wounded Alan, “and it’s like we’re trying to defy this narrative.”In this work of epic beauty, the riveting Jolly and tender Sloan double as Scheherazade and the sultan, Shahriyar, who has solved the problem of adultery by beheading each of his virgin brides shortly after sex. Each morning brings a new wedding. Scheherazade saves herself by telling a series of interlocking stories, sustaining suspense, her husband’s attention and her own life by endlessly adding new threads.When that bomb goes off, the young sultan receives word of an approaching army of marauders. And so, in the counterpoint of different eras, we see the eternal shapes of conquest, like the universal patterns in the network of veins that can be found in items as disparate as a forming embryo and a maple leaf.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: May 10. Continues through June 8, 2008
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