The politically fraught romance between Alan and Dahna, an American Jew critical of Israeli policies and a Palestinian student activist, provides what amounts to a throughline in Jason Grote’s demanding new play. If the central characters sometimes seem sketchy, that may be deliberate: Grote’s main concern is the way that these lovers’ sense of their own identities is burdened, enveloped, indeed re-written by the stories that surround them. Framing narratives abound, generating one another like a never-ending set of Russian nesting dolls. An intrepid cast of six shift roles continuously, offering a prismatic portrait of Orientalism in its many guises, presided over by Scheherazade, the mother of all storytellers.
Director Ethan McSweeney, aided by Rachel Hauk’s inventive set design and a fluid soundscape provided by Lindsay Jones and DJ Arisa Sound, manages for the most part to make this impossibly complicated script stage-worthy. Though the play’s many truncated tales initially leave the audience (like Scheherazade’s listeners) hungry for closure, dazzling patterns of resonance slowly reveal themselves. Like Flaubert in the casbah of an Egyptian courtesan, Alan and Dahna have politically exoticized one another and their relationship breaks under the stress. The real excitement in 1001, however, comes from watching Grote construct a plot through transhistorical hyperlinks (it’s no wonder that one of his most effective scenes takes place in an Internet chatroom). While steeped in literary tradition, Grote’s structure captures a feeling of political and information vertigo unique to our globalized era. In a theatrical culture increasingly out of touch with contemporary life, that’s a story worth celebrating.
*Befitting its postmodern structure, 1001 has a pretty cool interactive website that riffs on the themes of the play.
Labels: theater reviews