- The Arabian Nights
- By Mary Zimmerman
- Directed by Allison Arkell Stockman
- Produced by Constellation Theatre Company
- Reviewed by Janice Cane
Constellation Theatre Company’s production of The Arabian Nights, now playing at Source Theatre, is a good show. It’s not a great show, and it’s not a bad show. It’s just … good. The set, lushly carpeted with dozens of Persian rugs, sets the mood perfectly. Percussionist Tom Teasley plays his exotic musical instruments at all the right moments to heighten the level of drama on stage. Most of the actors play their parts with a great deal of enthusiasm. But somehow, when all of these elements come together, they lack that special something that makes a good show spectacular.
Or maybe I was just too busy being embarrassed. You see, there are several very explicit scenes in The Arabian Nights that would have made me blush on any other day, but on this day, I turned a deep shade of red. I had brought my parents and sister, in town for a visit, to this show. Luckily my sister is older than me. In fact, very luckily indeed. I think she and I were the youngest people in the audience. The elderly ladies a few rows over seemed to really enjoy those explicit scenes, but I was a little taken aback. So word to the wise: don’t bring your family to The Arabian Nights.
Or maybe the show seemed lackluster to me because it was way too long. Playwright Zimmerman based The Arabian Nights (does anyone else have that Aladdin song running through their heads?) on the ancient Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, but this play would be much improved if it didn’t start to feel a thousand nights long by the end. Another problem is the end itself. Zimmerman’s “coda” ties ancient Baghdad to the modern-day Middle East, and it just doesn’t work.
The extreme length of the show (two hours and change) would be more understandable if director Allison Arkell Stockman spent more time on the intensely dramatic moments this story offers. After three years of killing his brides on their wedding night, King Shahryar marries Scheherezade, who tells him tale after tale, night after night, to prolong her own murder. On the first night, Scheherezade spins her story until dawn, when she leaves the king with a bit of a cliffhanger. This should be a critical moment, full of suspense for Scheherezade’s fate-will the king kill her or let her live to finish her tale? But Stockman speeds right past it, as she does many of the climactic moments in the individual tales.
The effect of glossing over these crucial scenes is to eliminate the plot of The Arabian Nights. Scheherezade supposedly melts her husband’s hardened heart (his first bride slept around, making her his first victim) with her stories, but the audience hardly gets to see that. It doesn’t help that King Shahryar is portrayed by the weakest link in this ensemble cast. John Tweel just seems to read his lines, without much pizzazz.
Fortunately, his counterparts portray their many roles with much more zeal. John Geoffrion, Lisa Lias and Katy Carkuff are especially entertaining. Undulating hips abound in The Arabian Nights, but Carkuff’s undulate more than others as the wife of a court jester who hides not one, not two, but four lovers in her privy. She makes the pastrycook’s dough rise, plows the seed of the greengrocer, and strokes the musician’s clarinet. But my favorite was the butcher, who cries out to Carkuff, “Bleet for me!” Not a phrase I ever thought I’d hear.
Most of the ensemble had to memorize an extraordinary number of lines for their multiple parts, and they do an excellent job-especially Lias, who plays Sympathy the Learned with a twinkle in her eye. She and all the others are gracefully conducted by Katie Atkinson’s Scheherezade. Like a puppetmaster, she moves in tandem with her characters and even joins the stories.
She and her cast mates are clad in costume designer Yvette M. Ryan’s sheer veils, wrapped skirts and baggy pants, all in bright colors. Dressed this way, they fit perfectly into A.J. Guban’s simple yet lavish set of Persian rugs. And Teasley deserves another mention; he not only performs the enchanting music, but composed it as well. If only the sum of this production was as captivating as its parts.
(Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, with intermission) Playing through October 21 at the Source Theatre, 1835 14th Street N.W., Washington, D.C. Performances are Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $12-$18, with discounts available. Call 1-800-494-TKTS or buy online.
It is a shame that some people feel the need to personally attack someone who reviewed a play. I myself went to the play and share many of the sentiments that the reviewer revealed in her column. The sexual “innuendo” was more than innuendo and quite frankly, trumped the amount of violence against women portrayed. At the two hour mark, I was praying that the story within a story would finally come to an end. I appreciate the reviewer giving her readers a head ups and feel her review was spot on, as other reviews have been in the past. While not everyone may agree with every review written, it is the job of a reviewer to share her thoughts and opinions. Last time I checked, that was the point of an editorial review.
Anon Deux says
To be fair, Janice’s article is poor Journalism, as her constructed argument doesn’t fit her thesis. It also doesn’t seem like she really understands theatre. It’s interesting to note that Janice doesn’t condemn the violence against women in the show, but does feel the need to point out the show’s innuendo. I have seen the show, and, quite frankly, I’d be much more worried about my son or daughter being shown the violence against women in this show (all period).
Furthermore, I wonder if Janice actually asked the theatre what their policy is regarding children. It would be interesting to note if the theatre has a policy that doesn’t allow younger children in, which would make her comments about the show’s “explicit scenes” moot.
Finally, as a local actor, I take extreme umbrage to the sentence “Most of the ensemble had to memorize an extraordinary number of lines for their multiple parts.” This information is simply useless in a review. Every actor has to memorize lines. Those who are cast in larger roles have more lines to learn. In this particular production, every actor played several roles, and was onstage quite a bit. Praising their ability to memorize lines, which is their job, smacks of a reviewer who is desperate to fill a column.
“You are a poor journalist whose work does not deserve to be read” is not passionate disagreement it is a personal attack. Saying it was a poor review and did not deserve to be read would be fine. Hope that helps
I did not write the offending comment, but I hope the publisher will clarify the apparent gray area between passionate disagreement with the reviewer and “anonymous personal attacks,” because the blocking of his/her IP addy seemed a slight overreaction.
Publisher’s Note. At DC Theatre Scene we allow readers to post comments without a name or email address however anonymous personal attacks like the one above will not be tolerated. The IP address has been added to our block list.
Your review lacks intelligence and sophistication. You do a good job at stating your point, but fail to prove it. Is the show really that long at 2 hours? Or, do you mean it was boring. You are a poor journalist whose work does not deserve to be read. Its a shame that the older crowd was able to enjoy the erotic scenes, as they are mature and you are not. Please grow up before publishing future reviews.