1001 Collaboraction

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 9/19/10 - "This is a hip, deconstructive play"

Highly Recommended - Zac Thompson, Chicago Reader 9/22/10 - "Grote's poignant depiction of individuals caught in that narrative--raise the play above the level of an artful brainteaser.  Collaboraction's lively staging has just the right swirling ambience"

Critic's Choice - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 9/22/10 "stunningly successful recasting...Bockley’s fluid direction..AJ Tarzian’s dilapidated subway set...The earnest Gross and compelling Makkar, supported by a strong ensemble"

Monica Westin, NewCity Chicago 9/22/10 - "This isn’t just a smart production—it’s a brilliant postmodern adaptation"

730p Thu-Sat; 3p Sun / $25 and $20 / 312.226.9633

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09/9/10 - 10/9/10

730p Thu-Sat; 3p Sun

'1001' Keep your head, storytellers - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 9/19/10 -" Scheherazade is best known as a plucky princess who has a tricky date with the murderous Shahriyah, a king whose idea of post-coital pleasure involves lopping off the head of his virgin conquests.

But as you likely know from “The Arabian Nights,” of which she is the heroine, savvy Scheherazade hatches a plot to save her noggin. Perchance Shahriyah could be destracted by stories. Even tyrants like a good yarn. And thus begins 1,001 nights of storytelling — stories unspooling within stories within stories. Wonderous tales of sensuality, morality, fancy, daring. All in service of a princess retaining possession of her head.

But as Mary Zimmerman explored so brilliantly in her singular stagings for Lookingglass Theatre and beyond, those stories are limited only by the imagination of those listening and those telling. Jason Grote, a rising young playwright, takes those notions even further in his impressive play “1001,” allowing Scheherazade to quickly morph into a Palestinian graduate student in New York and Shahriyah to become her contemporary Jewish boyfriend. As these stories leap out of their original context, Scheherazade’s big Arabian-style book converts to a laptop. Osama bin Laden makes a guest appearance, as does Gustave Flaubert (speaking of storytellers), a eunuch and Aladdin. Avec inevitable lamp.

Grote’s use of these tales to riff (and this is a riff, rather than a polemic) on contemporary manifestations of Middle Eastern narrative and cultural steretoype makes an arresting theatrical blueprint. This is a hip, deconstructive play — savvy, self-aware and adroit at noting the power of myth in generations of sectarian strife, not to mention modern-day love. The original tale is all about the intersection of sex, power, gender and storytelling. So is “1001,” which has the added oomph of exploring how the contemporary descendents of anicent middle-eastern cultures are caught between earnest self-actualization and the violence of their own history.

Director Seth Bockley and Collaboraction almost pull this show off in the apt cavern of the Chopin Theatre — filled with color, drapery, jewels and other delicious sweets from designer AJ Tarzian. The young cast — led by Mouzam Makkar and Joel Gross — is attractive, lively and hyper-articulate. The production is full of visual tricks and displays an electic array of styles, ranging from scenes that could have been performed by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. to those with the air of some hipper-than-thou indie movie of the moment.

But the production struggles with two key things. The first is keeping the overly jumpy production’s uber-narrative straight. Stories flatten out. Time and again, the staging gets trapped in the fresh theatrical crafting of the particular moment (the skilled crafting, I might add) and fails to keep us abreast of the frame. Grote, who scratches surfaces more than wounding them, does not make this easy. But he makes it possible. And whether it’s “1001” or “The Arabian Nights,” prioritization is a big part of the storyteller’s game. It’s how we see connections.

The second thing? Truth. All the tricks and freshness in the world can’t compensate for too many moments when simple human pain is passed over. And without clear rules, the stakes cannot rise as they should. An example: There’s a moment here when a guy wakes up and sees a girl with a knife at his neck. It’s played as no big deal — everything’s just a story.

Well, sure. Life is but a dream, maybe an Arabian dream. But you still have to hold on to your head".


Highly Recommended - Zac Thompson, Chicago Reader 9/22/10 - In this "remixed" version of The 1,001 Nights, playwright Jason Grote cleverly exploits the original's Russian-doll, stories-within-stories structure by fiddling around with time. Tale-spinning heroine Scheherazade--a Persian queen who foils her husband's plan to murder her by mesmerizing him with stories offering tune-in-tomorrows instead of endings--relates sagas about Jorge Luis Borges and Alan Dershowitz as well as Sinbad and Aladdin. Each moment contains both the ancient and the contemporary, and each story forms part of the larger narrative known as "history." Grote's poignant depiction of individuals caught in that narrative--most notably a Jewish American and his Kuwaiti girlfriend swept up in a devastating terrorist attack--raise the play above the level of an artful brainteaser.   Collaboraction's lively staging has just the right swirling ambience".

Critic's Choice - "1001" by Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 9/22/10 - "In this stunningly successful recasting of The Arabian Nights, Grote seamlessly blends riffs on self-preserving storyteller Scheherazade with a present-day tale of love’s uncertainty. The Brooklyn-based writer plays his hand shrewdly: A long opening sequence has the appearance of a relatively straightforward adaptation, aside from King Shahriyar’s shaky connection with his vocabulary—he has a habit of losing his words and, it seems, his place in time.

As Scheherazade’s tales twist and pile upon one another, however, she suddenly picks up a thread that’s set not so long ago or far away: New York City, 2001, and the romance between Jewish Jersey boy Alan and West Bank–born Palestinian Dahna (played by Joel Gross and Mouzam Makkar, who double as Shahriyar and Scheherazade). Weaving in and out of stories of Sinbad and djinns appear refracted glimpses of the modern lovers negotiating the lines between their cultural and individual identities, sometimes wondering which are truly driving their relationship. Meanwhile, a different kind of Arab-Western conflict looms in the coming September 11 attacks.

The swiftness and slyness with which Grote shifts gears in this 2004 work can be head-spinning in the best sense; he flips tales and genres with ease, moving from slapstick to somber in the blink of an eye. Bockley’s fluid direction, marked by striking visuals, aids and abets; clever use of found-object props and AJ Tarzian’s dilapidated subway set enhance the out-of-time sense. The earnest Gross and compelling Makkar, supported by a strong ensemble, prove masterful storytellers themselves"


"1001" by Monica Westin, NewCity Chicago 9/22/10 - "This isn’t just a smart production—it’s a brilliant postmodern adaptation of the “Arabian Nights,” where Scheherazade’s famous interlocking stories, with the cliffhanger endings that kept King Shahriyar so enraptured in ancient Persia, are interwoven with a contemporary story of an Arab-Jewish interracial relationship against a backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan saturated with anti-Arab paranoia. It’s almost impossible to overstate the wit, fluidity and complexity with which writer Jason Grote and director Seth Bockley send the commanding, hyper-articulate cast through a labyrinth of character quick-changes, transitions from slapstick comedy to sincere political messages, and appearances from Osama bin Laden performing “Thriller” to Flaubert describing Egyptian courtesans. It’s also an incredibly hip production, with deconstructive metatheater, a strong Hitchcock influence, and striking stage pictures (including a Beckett-esque genie in a shopping cart and the most creative use of a strobe light I’ve seen in theater). But—and this is a big but—it’s hard to find any emotional or even real intellectual payoff from the show’s hard work. It’s often unclear how seriously the production takes itself—occasionally the stylized comedy borders on farce, and actions move far too quickly through moments that could have strong emotional resonance. Ultimately, the connections of various mythos feel like cerebral showmanship, without creating any messages that are truly original, thought-provoking or moving, and when an actor describes “Arabian Nights” as possibly being a “joke mistaken for history,” it’s hard not to see this same trap in “1001.” Finally, for a play as obsessed with cultural stereotypes as this one, there are some uncomfortable racialized signals, from a strong anti-Israeli message to the casting of the one dark-skinned actor to play the most common perpetrator of violence".

Reply to NewCity Chicago - Anthony Moseley, Artistic Diretor  "While we certainly appreciate New City’s support of Collaboraction’s production of 1001, Monica Westin’s review contains an assertion we feel should be addressed. She takes exception “to the casting of the one dark-skinned actor to play the most common perpetrator of violence.” We feel this statement is both inaccurate and incorrectly implies racism in our casting process.        Grote’s play is written to be performed by four male actors, with each actor playing a “track” of multiple characters. The track in question, Track F, played by Edgar Sanchez, includes, in addition to the violent Orthodox Jewish Student character (a relatively minor role), some of the most sympathetic and non-violent characters in the show, including the love-stricken Prince Yahya, the fey Orientalist Gustave Flaubert, and the sophisticated Arab businessman and love interest Asser. The other male tracks, by comparison, contain far more violent characters, including one track that features a king who beheads thousands of women (played in our production by a Caucasian man), and another that includes an evil father who kills his own daughter (played in our production by a Caucasian man).  Of course, in casting the track, we simply chose the actor we felt was best suited to play these various roles. Also, we have two actors of color in the production, Edgar Sanchez and Mouzam Makkar.  Thank you for your coverage and time".


"1001" by John Dalton, www.centerstage.com - "1001 is storytelling, mythologizing, tale-spinning at its finest.  The low-ceilinged basement of the Chopin Theater seems made to house this production. The eclectic collection of furniture and art in the lobby and the theater's heavy concrete pillars are perfectly suited to Jason Grote's whirlwind, anachronistic adaptation of "The Arabian Nights." Aided by AJ Tarzian's fine set design, we are whisked to the labyrinthine tunnels underneath the mighty edifices of "Manhat," where metal monstrosities riding on rails of lightning engulf and disgorge travelers, food vendors and merchants of all stripes hawk their wares, and, for a few dinar, a homeless man will tell you a story of Scheherezade and the king Shahriyar.

Grote's inspired script and the able, energetic direction of Seth Bockley blow the dust off these centuries-old stories and deliver them with arresting immediacy. This is no smiling, ingratiating retelling of some faithful old saws; these stories are conjured for us because they are real and resonate with our daily lives. In a style reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's finer works, the folk tale is given back its teeth and let loose amongst the sheep to do what storytelling does best: teach us about ourselves and the world we live in.

The outstanding six-person ensemble cast conjures (with extraordinary deftness, enthusiasm, and humor) sharp, distinct, entrancingly real portraits of a host of people from all walks of life. In this world, an argument between a student and a learned sage twists into a conversation between Sinbad and Borges into a tale about a magic lamp into an incredibly intimate and tension-filled encounter conducted on laptops via instant messages. You could hear a pin drop in the theater.

The run of this production is short; closing night is October 9. Do not hesitate to get your tickets now and see this show. I promise you, it is worth the few dinar".  

"Collaboraction presents titillating, modern twist on Arabian Nights" by Beverly Friend, www.chicagocritic.com - " As a storyteller, Jason Grote has one advantage over Scheherazade — a brilliant cast to enact his madcap version of the Arabian Nights.

Grote’s version divides 1001 into two separate, rather unequal parts. The first act focuses on the frame of the original Arabian Nights set in ancient Persia. In reaction to his queen’s adultery, King Shahriyar (Joel Gross) now weds and beds a virgin each evening, and beheads her at dawn. Sprightly Carly Ciarrochi plays the one sacrificial virgin we meet – and she is more than enough: garbed for her wedding, like a child playing dress up, she sobs, gulps and wails as she faces her destiny. King Shahriyar doesn’t appear very threatening, a dim bulb whose speech halts in confusion as he mixes up “unicorns and eunuchs;” “genital, gentile and gentle;” “blast furnace and blasphemous.”

Enter Scheherazade (stunning Mouzam Makkar) with her plan to forestall the king by intriguing him with a new and fascinating story each evening.  That’s the frame, but the stories themselves have varied over time. Now it is Grote’s turn.

The excellent ensemble takes on a whole host of characters, — first from early versions, later from fact as well as fiction.  They illustrate the original stories, before moving into modern world. The six successfully master a total of 28 roles.  H.B. Ward becomes a one-eyed Arab, a slave master, Sinbad the Sailor, a Djinn, and – amazingly — Alan Dershowitz.  Ciarrochi moves from the virgin bride to become both Scheherazade’s sister, then becomes a very sexy courtesan who captures the interest of Gustave Flaubert.  Edgar Miguel Sanchez adds to the Flaubert role with his depictions of various Arabs as well as an orthodox Jewish student. Antonio Brunetti rounds out the cast with roles that include the king’s vizier, the blind author Jorge Luis Borges, a horrible monster, and Osama Ben Laden. Even the large tome containing the stories finds a new incarnation as a laptop computer.

The chemistry between Makkar and Gross becomes electric in the second act when the two evolve from their roles as Scheherazade and the King to become a highly romantic couple: Dahna (a modern Arab girl) and her Jewish boyfriend, Adam.

Throughout, the emphasis is on stories and their power. We are all composed of stories, Dahna tells Adam. Stories tell who we are, define our behavior, and explain our lives.  They also can confuse us – and this does happen in the play. The sheer number of tales, the time shifts and the rapidity of exposition is dazzling – providing a challenging intellectual maze. It would take more than one viewing to capture and unravel all the sidelights and nuances.

By all means, see this Chicago premiere – see it twice!"

From the Program  - Sexy and surreal, “1001” is a theatrical mash-up that mixes Middle East politics with a modern tale of young love, asking the question “Can passion conquer history?” A six-actor ensemble plays a dizzying variety of roles, including the fabled princess Scheherezade, a Palestinian businessman, Sindbad the sailor, an American Jew named Alan, Gustave Flaubert, a princess with a lisp and even Osama Bin Laden. Featuring Collaboraction's signature blend of modern media and visceral storytelling, this moving and hilarious intimate production promises to take audiences on a theatrical journey into uncharted territory.

“Jason Grote is one of a generation of brainy new American dramatists — including Tracy Letts and Will Eno — who understand that to reach new audiences, political theater needs to move beyond moral indignation and outrage, past spoon-feeding an attitude,” says LA Weekly. The Washington Post says Grote “has made a name for himself in recent years with scripts that explode the boundaries between the ordinary and the chimerical, the political and the aesthetic, the intimate and the dizzyingly cosmic.”

Jason Grote

Seth Bockley

Mouzam Makkar (Scheherazade/Dahna); HB Ward (One-eyed Arab, Jumul's Master, Mostafa, Slave, Sindbad, Voice of Alan Dershowitz, Dhnn); Joel Gross (Shahriyar, Alan); Carly Ciarrocchi (The Virgin Bride, Dunyazade, The Princess Maridah, Juml, Kuchuk Hanem, Lubna); Antonio Brunetti (Jorge Luis Borges, The Emir Ghassan, The Horrible Monster, Osama Bin Laden, Wazir); Edgar Sanchez (Yahya Alhumsayni, Asser, Gustave Flaubert, The Orthodox Jewish Student, Voice of Moderation, A Eunuch)

Sound Design & Composition - Mikhail Fiksel; Set Design - AJ Tarzian; Costume Design - Elsa Hiltner; Props Design - Deborah Lindell; Light Design - Mac Vaughey

Tags: Theater, American, 2010