At Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
Written by Jason Grote
Directed by Seth Bockley
Thru October 9th
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes includes a ten minute intermission and a delayed start
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
‘Everyone is a collection of stories.’ Change one person’s story and change a nation’s history. Ah, the power of the storyteller! Collaboraction presents the Chicago premiere of 1001. Based on the legendary compilation of Arabian folklore ‘One Thousand and One Nights‘ (aka ‘Arabian Nights’), Playwright Jason Grote intertwines the traditional narratives with contemporary tales. To save her life, Queen Scheherazade distracts King Shahriyar with multiple interconnecting stories. The queen concocts complicated intrigue to interest the King. Her expositions stop in ‘cliffhanger’ moments to entice the King to delay her execution so he can hear a story’s conclusion. 1001 masterfully swirls the old with the new. Ancient times entertain with the re-enactment of virgin bride slayings, a ‘slave to dead sister’ makeover and Sinbad’s travel adventure monologue. These recollections interlock with modern stories of Arab-Jewish dating, an ‘arranged marriage’ internet hook-up, and Osama bin Laden’s ‘Thriller’ recital. An ensemble presents an ensemble of stories within stories within stories. 1001 is like life. Drama continues unfolding. Stories never end. Laughing is inevitable!
How many actors does it take for 28 roles? SIX!?! Under the direction of Seth Bockley, the cast ages, goes blind, and adds an accent to create distinct characters. The movement is quick as one story flows into another. The tight cast keeps the fast pace without rushing individual scenes. Carly Ciarrochi bawls, lisps and falls with perfect comedic style. Edgar Miguel Sanchez transforms from fatal attraction melodramatic to live chat suave to angry protestor with zest. The pop-up appearances of Osama bin Laden are spooky but Antonio Brunetti makes them hysterical. H.B. Ward uses various voices, including Jeff Bridges, to entertain as multiple characters. Joel Gross goes from killer to suicidal with
a romantic flourish to swoon for. As the primary narrator, Mouzam Makker frames the show with authority. As the leading lady, Makker keeps it real with a complex love life that ‘obscures more than illuminates.’ Bockley skillfully guides his six through a maze of scenarios. The results are pure comedy with thought-provoking moments and a haze of ‘what’s real?’ enchantment.
1001 starts urban with rumbling and highbeams. The set is a graffiti, grimy New York subway with surprising Arabian silk draping and drop down additions. Set designer AJ Tarzian aids the storytelling transition with simple culture contrasts. Halogen and strobe lighting (designer Mac Vaughey) is used effectively to spotlight narrating, clubbing or plummeting. Dressing it up, Elsa Hiltner designed costumes to convert time periods by discarding or adding a layer.
Alongside the cast and crew, the primary storyteller is Playwright Jason Grote. Grout found the funny in his poignant adaptation of ‘One Thousand and One Nights.’ Initially, the humor feels forced. Shahriyar searching for the right word is titillating… no… terrifying… no… tiresome! This shtick, along with a guy talking about one eye, makes the first few scenes awkward. But with any good book, you need to give it a few pages. Just beyond the first chapter, 1001 spellbinds to the conclusion. In fact, knowing how the stories connect, you’ll want to return to see the beginning scenes from a new perspective. Grote goes for the Scheherazade conspiracy enticing the audience’s return to effectively delay the end of the show’s run.