23 February 2009

KC Rep: The Arabian Nights

Mary Zimmerman is the reason we got season tickets to the KC Rep. Five years ago we happened upon free tickets to the Rep’s production of her play Metamorphoses and were so stunned. Craving more opportunities to be amazed, entertained, and edified, we signed up for season tickets and the Rep has provided pretty consistently since then. This season, when I heard that they were putting on another Zimmerman production, I was anxious to attend. And it did not disappoint.

Again presenting ancient texts with modern twists, Zimmerman’s The Arabian Nights is teeming with characters and stories. Every night, Scheherezade tells her trail of stories, captivating the King, her husband, so that he won’t kill her. Each tale within a tale within the big tale of the play itself compels everyone (the king and the audience) into the plot maze, and we hold on to the thread so that we can find our way back.

Along the way we are treated to a full spectrum of performance: drama, comedy, and improv; choreography, song, and dance; audience participation and stand-up; bawdy jokes and chilling political references. The set design – consisting simply of a full spread of carpets, low tables, and numerous luminous lamps hanging on both sides of the broken ‘fourth wall’ – lent itself to each and all of these.

If I had to choose, I might say that Metamorphoses was a slightly more memorable production. Which might be due to that giant pool they used in the middle of the set. But I don't want to have to choose, and I feel very moved by simplicity yet richness of The Arabian Nights. I feel just as moved as after that first Zimmerman production I saw. Both plays are powerfully lavish collections of tales that are timeless. Both reveal what Robert Trussel, writing for the Star, called "the sheer audacity" of Zimmerman's vision. And both left me wanting more.

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