Election Section

Shotgun’s Exotic Exploration of an Apartment Block By KEN BULLOCK Special to the Planet

Tuesday June 14, 2005

A white divan (modern) backed by tiers of screens on which multiple images of a camel are projected: This is the simple set on the Ashby Stage on which the Shotgun Players’ production of Arabian Night will spin a tangled web. 

Roland Schimmelpfennig’s play (translated by David Tushingham) is a comedy of missteps, second-guesses and asides. Its subject is the banality of an evening in an apartment block, reflected in the windows of other, identically anonymous buildings, caught in a dark, fleeting undertow of the fantastic. 

The “action” finds the characters running up and down concrete stairs, wandering down corridors, tempted by open doorways, attracted by the siren sound of vaguely familiar voices, dreaming dreams of exotic landscapes peopled with remembered faces. 

While Franziska (played by Christina Kramlich), just out of her nightly shower, dozes in the sultry heat on the divan, her roommate Fatima (Carla Pantoja) waits for Khalil (Roham Shaikhani), her lover, to come by for their tryst. Meanwhile, Hans (Richard Louis James), the building super, roams the corridors and in and out of the apartments, in search of water. He can hear it, but it’s stopped running on the top floors. And also adrift among the blank walls of the passageways is Benjamin (Peter Karpati), waterless tenant of a facing tower, who’s caught a glimpse of Franziska drenched in the bath, and is irresistibly drawn to try to find the precious water—and her.  

Like particles in a cloud chamber, then a cyclotron, they’re all brought together in passing by forces of attraction that are beyond their (and the audience’s) comprehension, then pulled apart in vortices like whirlwinds—or desert sandstorms from the arabesque tales that give this play its wry, singular title.  

Khalil gets stuck in the elevator; Fatima’s locked out while looking for him down a stairwell. Franziska dreams strange dreams of being a virgin promised to her guardian in a far land, while the men, who happen on her, one by one, as she slumbers on her sofa, find themselves translated to other places to continue their searching (one to the desert for water, another to be the genie of a cognac bottle, the third to be unwilling serial seducer--or seduced), trapped by the curse Franziska dreams is attached to her lips. “If someone came and kissed her, that might be the end of these nights!” 

This particular night seems to end variously, both happily and hysterically sad—slight acquaintances embrace passionately, a knife’s drawn, there’s the sound of shattering glass. 

The Shotgun cast fares well in their intricate courses, talking their way through each situation in monologues a little like subliminal thoughts spoken out loud. The story accrues from these modular units—as modular as the apartment building, echoing like the corridors and stairways, coalescing into a multifacetted tale from the simultaneously apprehended quanta of hints and repetitions in speech and action. 

Sometimes the movements, executed crisply enough, seem static, like mime exercises (running in place, unlocking a door). One of the intriguing features of the play’s structure is a contradictory combination of the stasis of tableau with reversals of plot, “coups de theatre.” 

Shotgun’s got an offbeat hit on their hands, particularly for those who like that body of fiction loosely grouped together as “Magical Realism,” the offspring of Edgar Allan Poe, via Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino, Milan Kundera and a host of others who charm their public by the interpenetration of the everyday and fable. Arabian Night boomerangs through the exotic parallel universes of String Theory right back into the ordinary milieu of an urban apartment house, residing in the banalities of the New World Order.