A Thousand and One Arabian Nights
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Steven Underwood

Marin Shakespeare Company’s production, A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, is the story of one man’s addiction and the only woman who could satisfy it. The man is the absolute ruler Shahrayar (Michael Wiles) who, after discovering his wife sleeping with another man, vows to never trust another woman again. After having his wife beheaded for her infidelity, he weds a new virgin from his kingdom every night and has each one beheaded the next morning before she ever has the chance to betray him.

When he finally runs out of virgins in his kingdom, he asks his faithful servant to bring his daughter to him. The poor man obeys regretfully and kisses his daughter Schahrazad (Stephanie Gularte) goodbye. They’re wed but Schahrazad is a master storyteller and is aware of the addictive quality of her tales. That night she tells him a story that subtly leads to the promise of other stories. Night after night Schahrazad’s life is spared so she can go on telling Shahrayar more stories.

The ruler’s addiction to stories is a little like the Fisher King myth where a king once possessed the Holy Grail (God’s grace) but lost it. Once lost, the king suffered constant physical pain that could only be relieved temporarily by fishing. For Shahrayar, the Holy Grail was the love he once had in his heart and lost when his first wife betrayed him. Without that love, his life is full of darkness and paranoia. He fears being alone at night and Schahrazad’s stories, like a drug, provide a temporary relief to the deep pain in his heart. It’s really not that different from why many of us are addicted to going to movies or watching stories on TV.

The entire play is a series of stories spun by Schahrazad and acted out by the Marin Shakespeare cast. Most are comic, full of energy and pure fun though they all have some not too subtle moral for Shahrayar to contemplate. Their cumulative effect, unlike a drug, is healing. More than once in the New Testament, a fine book of stories, Christ is asked why he speaks in parables or stories. It seems that when people are on the wrong path you can’t just tell them what they’re doing wrong. They’ll deny it or be more convinced that what they’re doing is right. But through the metaphors in stories, they have to hear and hear again and still not understand, but eventually something in the very mystery of the story reveals something of the mystery of their life and a healing takes place.

Come enjoy the healing stories of Shahrazad in Marin Shakespeare’s rendition of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights at Dominican University’s outdoor theatre in San Rafael. For tickets or more information call (415) 499-4488 or visit: www.marinshakespeare.org.

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