Monday, April 1, 2013

Arabian Nights—Post5 Theatre—NE Portland

Imaginings of Life

This production is playing through April 28th at 7 pm at the Mile Post 5 location at 900 NE 81st Ave.  It is adapted from A 1001 Arabian Nights by Mary Zimmerman and directed by Philip Cuomo.  It is best to arrive early, as it is in a residential neighborhood.  For more information go to www.postfivetheatre.org

“In our heads are all the images of the universe.”  And, thus, we have stories…and storytellers.  Cave paintings may be the earliest form of a type of written communications but stories/history were usually passed down orally from generation to generation.  Some cultures did not even have a written form of communication.  And so, the storyteller occupied an important place in most tribes/clans.

These Oral Histories evolved into a type of guide of behavior for people.  Aesop’s Fables is probably one of the most famous examples of storytelling, using moral codes in them to make a point.  Even the parables in the Bible taught lessons to emulate.  In more recent times, the musical, Godspell, used this same method to relay certain important facets of the culture and a way of presenting it theatrically.  Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales is an effective, emotional monologue as a dramatic piece.  And, in New York, some fifty years ago, Paul Sills’s Story Theatre and its ilk became a legitimate form of entertainment.

A 1001 Arabian Nights combines all the above elements and now is presented in a theatrical format, adapted by Ms. Zimmerman.  There are about a dozen stories, presented by a cast of about a dozen plus actors, all playing multiple roles.  The base of the story is simple.  A leader of the area, Shahryar (Gilberto Martin Del Campo) has been cuckold by his wife and her lover and so he kills them both.  Out of revenge he then marries and kills each of his new brides on their wedding night.  But his most recent acquisition, Scheherazade (Nicole Accurdi), is not so easily quelled.

She opts to tell him stories to soothe this savage beast.  He becomes curious and enchanted by them and agrees to spare her life if she continues.  “Tell me stories, many stories, tell me quick!”  And, as foretold in the title, there are a 1001 of them.  Some more interesting than others.  But when one’s life is at stake, grind them out.

The Madman’s Tale begins the yarns, as he learns a valuable lesson in letting his pride get in the way of true love, the hard way.  The Jester’s Tale speaks of deceit and betrayal on a husband from his wife which, thereby, spurns four more stories from her lovers.  They concern a man who follows his dreams; the kindness bestowed upon a woman from strangers; a wonderful bag that may contain an entire universe or worthless trinkets; and a story of a flatulent gentleman who accidently gains fame for “tooting” his excesses.

More stories concern a Khalifah, who is not who he seems to be; a secret melody; a woman who bests all the great learners of the land with her knowledge, et. al.  To tell too much of these stories would ruin their impact, as they have twists and turns in them which are best seen/heard and not revealed.  Even the ending catapults the stories into the modern age.  A hint—these stories came out of Persia.  What country is Persia today?

The script by Zimmerman is pretty impressive, in how she adapted it so simply for the stage.  It does run well over two hours and could use some trimming, though.  The story of flatulence, for example, is pretty much a one-joke story.  And some of the repetition could be cut down a bit.  But her powers of adapting/writing are pretty amazing.

Mr. Cuomo has his work cut out for him in the staging of these tales, as he must be part traffic cop, interpreter, and expert stager in a small space with minimal sets.  But he does it all with seemingly amazing ease and fluidity.  (I do regret, though, not having a program, as some of the cast/stories might be incorrect.)

And his cast is extraordinary!  There is not a false note in these actors, who must put on the mantle of as many as a half dozen roles and keep them all unique.  They all must have skills in singing, dance, movement and acting.  Some of the over-all standouts (from an already outstanding cast) were Sam Dinkowitz, Cassandra Schwanke, James Peck, Sam DeRoest, Chip Sherman and Gilberto Martin Del Campo.  And a special badge of merit for Sascha Blocker, as the lead in Sympathy, the Learned.  She has an amazing memory for all those facts she must remember (okay, I thought she was pretty nice to look at, too, and a very expressive belly-dancer).

It should be noted that this is very adult material.  I do recommend it.  If you do attend, please tell them Dennis sent you.