'1001' Nights, One Shrewd Playwright
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Stories, stories and more stories: They wrap themselves around one another like the strands of a double helix in "1001," Jason Grote's urbane, contemporary riff on the tales of the Arabian nights, staged with a pleasing, all-hands-on-deck gusto by Rorschach Theatre.
As it did last summer with Grote's "This Storm Is What We Call Progress," the troupe -- formerly ensconced in a church in Columbia Heights -- is starting a season at Georgetown University's Davis Performing Arts Center with a play by this restlessly cerebral dramatist. In such works as "Storm," Grote can engender the feeling that you're running a half-block behind, struggling to catch up with his digressions and allusions.
"1001," by contrast, throws no disorienting dust in your eyes -- you don't, in other words, have to be acquainted with such topics as numerology or Kabbalah to be fully immersed. Not that this piece is unchallenging. It's all about the anatomy of storytelling: how stories reflect who we are; how we behave; how we tell so many over the course of our lives that we can get lost in the variety and number of them.
Although Woolly Mammoth Theatre last summer premiered a Grote comedy, "Maria/Stuart," Rorschach might be even better attuned to the playwright's rhythms. That, anyway, is the sense you get from director Randy Baker's vibrant production of "1001," mounted in the round in a black-box space, the Devine Theatre. With a rewarding economy of props -- and an evocative array of costumes by Ivania Stack -- Baker and his six young actors smoothly propel you through the work's intricately woven maze.
That ubiquitous question of everyday conversation -- "Now, where was I?" -- sets the structural tone of "1001." It commences in the world of the storyteller of "One Thousand and One Nights," Scheherazade (Yasmin Tuazon), who no sooner begins spinning tales of her native Persia than other stories are spawned, and then stories within stories from other epochs, involving everyone from Flaubert to Alan Dershowitz.
The connective thread is at times thin, but never so obscure as to confound. Tuazon reappears, for instance, as Dahna, a Palestinian woman of our time who is living with a Jewish New Yorker named Alan (but not Dershowitz). The actor who plays him, Rex Daugherty, also portrays the murderous king of the Arabian tales, Shahriyar, who was pacified by Scheherazade's beguiling stories.
Daugherty and Tuazon and their cast mates bring such discipline and belief to their metamorphosing portrayals that you become immersed in the game of what comes next. And when Grote is concerned, that game is often a treat.
1001, by Jason Grote. Directed by Randy Baker. Set, David C. Ghatan; costumes, Ivania Stack; lighting, Brian Allard; sound, Matthew M. Nielson and Wade Tandy; fight choreography, Casey Kaleba. With Lee Liebeskind, Abby Wood, Dylan Myers, Jay Saunders. About 1 hour 45 minutes.