One Thousand Nights and One Day
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Theater review by Diane Snyder
Cultures and eras collide—sometimes tragically, sometimes in beautiful harmony—in Prospect Theater Company’s One Thousand Nights and One Day, a haunting, soulful musical adapted by composer Marisa Michelson and librettist Jason Grote from the latter’s acclaimed 2007 play 1001. What begins as a retelling of the Arabian Nights story of King Shahryar (Ben Steinfeld) and his wife, Scheherazade (Sepideh Moafi), who strings along her husband with continual tales to stall her execution, soon morphs into the contemporary story of Alan and Dahna (Steinfeld and Moafi, again), a Jewish man and a Palestinian woman who begin a relationship in New York.
The modern couple’s cultural differences become a barrier, but not in the expected way. Alan sees Dahna from a Western perspective, and even wants to take a trip with her to Gaza: “I want to draw myself onto your map,” he sings. It’s a place she’d just as soon avoid, literally and metaphorically, and she wonders whether her sister is right to try to set her up with a man from a similar background.
Director Erin Ortman embraces simplicity in her staging—sheer black curtains open and close around playing areas—and brings together divergent elements with the style and substance this ambitious work deserves. As Grote plays with deconstructing stereotypes, Michelson presents a vibrant sonic landscape that ranges from Middle Eastern music to modern EDM. The band takes a bow with the seven actors at curtain call, and deservedly so. The show sounds heavenly.
A.R.T./New York Theatres (Off Broadway). Music by Marisa Michelson. Book and lyrics by Jason Grote. Directed by Erin Ortman. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.