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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Grote uses Schehereazade and the tales by which she staves off death from her husband, Sultan Shahriyar, as a parable for Arab/Israeli political and sexual conflicts today. One of Grote's most delicious touches is having the Sultan grope for words which underline his need for and fascination with the creative magic of Scheherazade.
With the help of four actors who play many parts, Scheherazade/Dahna (Monika Jolly) and Shahriyar/Alan (John Sloan) use Sindbad, Aladdin, the Djinn to weave a many-splendored tapestry, any thread of which could be pulled out to make a fascinating tale in its own right— also such modern interpreters as Jorge Luis Borges and Gustave Flaubert and political commentators like Alan Dershowitz.
Between the fables Dahna, an Arab, and Alan, a Jew, both contemporary university students in Manhattan, visit Gaza where Alan uses his Jewishness in an ill-advised attempt to save Dahna and their guide Mustafa. Dahna also weakens to an internet courtship from her family's choice, a bright and handsome Arab named Asser.
One of Grote's themes is individual self-absorption. Shahriyar ignores the Crusaders at his gates to hear the end of Scheherazade's latest story and when Alan gets his chance at Aladdin's lamp, he chooses to have Dahna forever over saving the world writhing outside his window in a 9/11-esque disaster. Another theme is spin, or how people create their lives from the stories they've heard or choose to believe.
Director Michael Michetti keeps this intricate production clear and bright as the vivid colors in the cast's colorful Middle Eastern costumes. It's provocatively easy to convert them to modern day where the girls wear white pants and shirts and the men loose pants and T-shirts. Sloan finds the introversion in Alan/Shahriyar and Jolly the fierce determination in Dahna/Scheherazade. The supporting cast are versatile and fascinating.
The richness and diversity of the material in this production makes one wish for a few spin-offs. However, 1001 Nights stands alone like an exotic dish with many mysterious and spicy ingredients proudly fending off its contenders on a conventional buffet.