Saturday, November 03, 2007
Jason Grote's new play, 1001, reminds me of an ingenious string of computer code I once saw: filled with nested for loops, these endlessly sharp lines (specific and yet filled with broad generalizations that left room for hundreds of back and forth variations depending on the value) were a pleasure to browse, yet at the end did no more than perform a routine task on the PC. Grote's play has wider ambition than the routine, and he uses the conceit of storytelling -- and not just those of The Arabian Nights (though he riffs on it well, with one scene more melodramatically staged than a '50s Hollywood romance) but the stories of our history, from fabulists like Borges (and his ingeniously infinite stories) to the spooky narratives of people like bin Laden (now staged alongside a clip from Michael Jackson's Thriller). The plot parallels Scheherezade and Shahriyar with that of their modern equivalents, Dahna and Alan, and Ethan McSweeny's beautifully inventive staging unites the scenes, with an ancient tome appearing also as a suitcase nuke and a laptop and the sky blue theme popping up in both costumes or as the waves of Sinbad's voyage, giving way to the bed of two trapped lovers. These two leads, a bewitching Roxanna Hope and the serious and seriously talented Matthew Rauch bring life to the play, allowing the politics to exist around them, but Grote doesn't manage to contextualize the majority of his dreamlike characters (from one-dimensionally Arab-hating Jews to a grossly comic Flaubert, mystic Borges, and digital Dershowitz) and that turns the exotic postmodernism into little more than the present, filtered, gutted, and paraphrased through the haze of fiction. I was happy to lose myself in the story (Grote is a sort of Rumpelstiltskin, spinning yarns into golden prose), but disappointed that all this labyrinthine storytelling had such vague messages.