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‘Nights’ offers 1001 delights PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sentinel-Tribune Staff   
Thursday, 16 February 2012 11:00
Kailen Fleck plays a merchant who pretends to have a wild family in ‘The Arabian Nights’ at BGSU. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
"The Arabian Nights" that opens tonight at Bowling Green State University is are not the child-proofed versions familiar to most of us.
The script by Mary Zimmerman brings the collection of tales back to their ancient roots, earthier, more violent, certainly more bawdy, and far more subtle.
"The Arabian Nights," directed by Jonathan Chambers, runs tonight, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and continues next weekend. With its swirl of color and shifting landscapes, the play proves to be the right vehicle to show off the capabilities of the Wolfe Center for the Arts' Eva Marie Saint Theatre.
The black box theater offers a flexible arrangement. For "The Arabian Nights," the theater is set up with audience on all four sides. No one's further than the third row. So when the large ensemble actors sit on stage as stories unfold, the audience almost becomes an extension of the cast, pulled into the fanciful realm.
Believing she is to die, Scheherazade (performed by Trina Friedberg), the virgin-bride of King Shahryar (performed by Dylan Stretchberry), laments while the king forces a dagger on her throat.
The merchant madman (performed by Kailen Fleck) ponders as the perfect love (performed by Holley Mosher) steps into his life with a seemingly large amount of insecurities in the tale of the madman, one of several stories told by Scheherazade to avoid execution.
Sheikh al-Islam (performed by Nelson Avilés) attempts to dissuade the deceived merchant madman (performed by Kailen Fleck) from marrying his deformed daughter in the tale of the madman, one of several stories told by Scheherazade to avoid execution.
The tale of 1001 nights is framed by that of Shahryar (Dylan Stretchbery) who, betrayed by his first wife, decides never again to trust a woman. So every night he marries a new virgin only to slaughter her at dawn. Stretchbery makes Shahryar's rage palpable, clearly fueled by a deep-seated uncertainty that he denies.
Soon, he is running short of virgins, as families flee the land with their daughters, so he turns to his trusted Wazir (Corey DiNardo) and demands he supply his two daughters, the lovely and clever Sheherezade (Trina Friedberg) and the younger Dunyazade (Nicole Navarre). Though, the father urges them to leave the city with him, Sheherezade says she has a plan to end the shah's deadly spree.
She conspires with her impish and mischievous sister to keep Shahryar on edge by spinning stories that always end with a cliff hanger at dawn when her mourning father arrives with a shroud. The way Stretchbery wields his knife makes it clear that Sheherezade is in danger, but while fear may flash across Friedberg's face, she always steadies her character's resolve.
These tales, often a tale within a tale within a tale, are acted out by the ensemble of 16 actors, each taking on multiple parts.
Many begin in the court of the legendary Harun al-Rashid, a wise leader often required to sort out the affairs of his subjects. Played by Nelson Aviles he is an upright man eager to absorb more knowledge and ever amused at the foibles of humanity.
Romantic betrayal, by both men and women, play a part in many of the tales. The show starts with the fickle nature of male lust in the "Madman's Tale." At first the self-righteous merchant (Kailen Fleck) rejects the overtures of a mysterious woman, and assaults the slave girl (Christina Hoekstra) who delivers her overtures. This Perfect Love (Holley Mosher)  arrives years later, slowly revealing her charms and seduces the merchant as his assistant (Slade Billew) looks on. She's actually tricking him into marrying a deformed woman.
Fleck registers all manner of emotions, disgust to lust, with his elastic face.
In "The Perfidy of Wives," a bride, played by Navarre, entertains a series of lovers, each of whom must hide in the privy when another arrives. Finally her jester husband ((Joshua Powell) arrives desperately needing to use the privy and all the lovers tumble out. They concoct a tale about being messengers from God, a ruse that fools the jester but not Harun al-Rashid.
In order to  escape punishment each - Justin Betancourt, Neil Powell, Chase Will and Hannah Berry - must each spin a tale, and each tale proves amusing enough, for Harun as well as the audience, to earn them a reprieve.
Berry also has a prime bit in "Abu al-Hasan's Historic Indiscretion" as the bride receiving her groom (Scott Sanville). When he bows, the chickpeas he ate have their way with his digestive track, and he emits an explosion of flatulence. The members of the cast get to show off their best juvenile fart noises, all delivered with delicate comic timing. All the while Berry registers, first amusement and then repulsion at the helpless al-Hasan.
In the second act, when it's clear that Shahyar has softened his demeanor, the tales turn philosophical.
"Sympathy the Learned" is a tale of a wise woman, played with great dignity by Hope Quinn, who bests the three sages in Harun al-Rashid's court as they quiz her with riddles and questions about Koran and the physical world.
Unstated throughout is a subversive strain, that undermines Americans simple-minded view of the Arab world. In the end the play makes an abrupt turn from fairy tale into headlines, connecting the fanciful Baghdad with the real-world, world weary, battle scarred Baghdad in the news.
Last Updated on Thursday, 16 February 2012 11:09

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