There once was, praise Allah, a Jason Grote. This Grote lived in the utmost wilderness (a/k/a Brooklyn) where he read many authors—Benjamin, Said, Borges, Gramsci—and watched many videos—Vertigo, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Thriller. One day, he combined these various influences into a play, loosely based on Sir Richard Burton’s Arabian Nights. Grote called this play 1001.
1001, Grote’s New York premiere, displays a dazzling, if occasionally wearing, intelligence. Grote writes in a self-consciously literary style, which director Ethan McSweeny often succeeds in rendering theatrical. Meticulous in word choice, novelistic in scope, the script is a bricolage of stories and sources. It’s exhilarating and exhausting.
Under Tyler Micoleau’s gorgeous lights, an able six-member cast portrays Scheherazade, Sinbad, Flaubert, Osama bin Laden, and contemporary Manhattanites. Roxanna Hope and Matthew Rauch play the two central couples, Scheherazade and her murderous king, as well as a lissome Palestinian coed and her Jewish paramour. In one scene, the latter pair has a fight. “Is this Western idea of dating really liberating? Or is it hegemonic?” asks Dahna (“Hope”). Her boyfriend replies, “Why don’t you just break up with me instead of couching it in this cultural studies bullshit?” The playwright also occasionally suffers from this lack of straightforwardness, sometimes sacrificing storytelling and relationships to literary display. Neverthless, Grote’s talent and ambition suggest he’ll offer many more exciting nights at the theater. Like Scheherazade’s king, I look forward to his next tale.