Yet another Nights based play in the US, this one from Minnesota. Something in the air?
OnStage: Love, impossible
The cultural mash-up "1001" takes center stage at Mixed Blood Theatre.
By ROHAN PRESTON, Star Tribune
Last update: November 1, 2008 - 4:38 PM
In a new show at Mixed Blood, playwright Jason Grote offers a variation on a theme that often gets played out onstage, onscreen and on vacation in some of our personal lives: After the fire has burned out of their relationship, a loveless couple take a trip to some exotic locale. Amid the local color, fauna and spices, they reignite their flame.
Grote started writing "1001" from this clichéd basis, but then gave it a twist. In his version, the couple -- one Jewish and the other Palestinian -- face such intractable differences that a jaunt to Mexico will not be enough. Instead, they must journey to the realm of the imagination. The playwright sets the action in the magic-carpet world of "One Thousand and One Arabian Nights."
Will this super-exotic background help them to get over their relationship difficulties?
Twin Cities audiences will find out starting Thursday when Grote's "1001" previews at Mixed Blood Theatre. The play is a cultural mash-up that reinterprets some of the stories in "Arabian Nights" through a prism of contemporary American culture. It combines elements of Aladdin and Sinbad with Monty Python-esque slapstick and lush language that has been likened to that of Jorge Luis Borges.
The play also is infused with experimental hip-hop and electronica music as well as pop-cultural references to Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller." And the show's cast of characters includes Osama bin Laden, famed lawyer Alan Dershowitz and 19th-century writer Gustave Flaubert.
A reviewer for the Rocky Mountain News called last year's Denver premiere "a riot of ideas, experiences and influences."
"A play has to be a vehicle for something bigger than itself," Grote said Monday by phone from New York City. He lives in Brooklyn and teaches at New Jersey's Rutgers University. "If it's just a love story, I could just watch a soap opera. It has to have some big ideas, expressed in a personal way, and some real spectacle to draw you in."
Brimming with big ideas
And just what are the big ideas in "1001"? Grote, a New Jersey native who was educated at New York University, explained that when he began writing the work in 2004 during the heated electoral season, the war in Iraq was hotter than it is now. "It was dangerous to come out and say anything that could smell like a critique, like treason," he said.
Still, his goal was to find a way to critique and to show up ideas that he said ran through both personal and political developments. "It was a time when we were into this kind of xenophobic panic about Islam and Arabs -- a panic that's playing itself out in this political season. We have seen it even now, the suggestion that one presidential candidate is secretly a Muslim, as if there's something inherently wrong with that," he said. "But that kind of suspicion and misunderstanding ties deeply into the literary and philosophical history of Europe, which is all about misunderstanding Asia."
Still, as he wrote, Grote did not want to simply preach "to the liberal choir." So he turned the narrative of the play again, giving personal, bodily form to some questions.
"To some degree, it's an understandable human trait that we misperceive some things," he continued. "In a relationship, there's always a gap between what we expect someone to be and what they turn out to be. It happens at the macro, geopolitical level, as well, like in Iraq. I wanted to ask, by way of this play, if a lot of this clash-of-civilization narrative -- if these global misunderstandings were not, to some degree, inevitable."
Ultimately, as much as he likes to wrestle with historical and political ideas, he also likes to be entertained in the theater, Grote said. So he crafted "1001" to be a kaleidoscopic spectacle. "We try to make it enjoyable."
Who: By Jason Grote. Directed by Sarah Rasmussen.
When: Previews 7:30 p.m. Thu. Opens 7:30 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 3 p.m. next Sun. Ends Nov. 23.
Where: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.
Tickets: $11-$30. 612-338-6131. www.mixedblood.com.