Theater archives

Magic Unrealism


Thanks to the enterprising Play Company, we can now see exactly what’s wrong with the Irish style of narrated “play” as practiced by Brian Friel or Conor MacPherson: It isn’t any fun. In contrast, the young German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Arabian Night, a madcap piece of multiculti surrealism told almost entirely in narration, is a lively, bewitchingly silly diversion, even though its outlook is almost unrelievedly grim. Intercutting the crisscrossed adventures of five people in an apartment complex—two tenants, a visitor, an intruder, and the super—on a sweltering summer evening, Schimmelpfennig pulls events from the banal (clogged pipes, jealous lovers) to the mythic (a spirit in a bottle, a sleeping beauty) with a freewheeling zest that’s about as German as García Márquez on a sunny day.

For good or ill, the intersecting stories all end heavily, but the ease with which they leap from grungy reality to dream and fairy tale is a constant exhilaration: Unlike the more plodding one-tale-at-a-time narrated plays, this one expands your sense of the world. Trip Cullman’s direction is suitably assured and speedy, though not always as specific as it might be. The acting, by mostly unfamiliar names, is low-water but never strained or false, with Roxanna Hope and Piter Marek, as a pair of doomed lovers, coming off best. How nice to see that storytelling onstage can still go back to “once upon a time.”