Missing the Punch Line
(Scheherzade's Sister (her story) From "Dunyazadiad" by John Barth Directed by Vincent Murphy At the Hasty Pudding Club.
MODERN DRAMATIC ADAPTATIONS of ancient tales, tragedies or myths are usually fun and sometimes even enlightening. However, when the play becomes overly interested in transmitting contemporary messages at the expense of its original old and foreign setting, it loses its appealing qualities. That is the problem with "Scheherazade's Sister." Theater Works' latest production.
Although the set music and costumes are appropriately Mid Eastern, and the legend upon which the drama is based is authentic, the effect is political and modern rather than artistic and entertaining. Thus, the very witty lines and enticing music barely offset the feeling that one has just heard a very confused feminist tract.
The drama was adapted from John Barth's story collection. Chimera, It recounts the ancient story behind the tales of the 1001 Arabian Nights through a contemporary feminist consciousness.
According to the legend, two brothers. Sharyar and Shah Zaman, who reign over adjoining kingdoms, discover their wives infidelity and vow that, in retaliation, each will rape a virgin every night and have her killed in the morning. Sharyar's kingdom soon deteriorates as parents flee the country with their daughters. At last, Scheherazade, a local visor's eldest daughter, announces to her father that she has a plan to end the King's murders and he, therefore, must present her to him that night as the virgin.
This modernized version of the tale begins with Sherry (Kathleen Patrick) deciding to drop out of university in her senior year give up her valedictorianship, and immerse herself in books until she finds a way to stop the rampant murders. The story is narrated by Doony (Kirsten Giroux), Sherry's younger sister, who, while roller skating across stage, explains that Sherry has tried "poli-sci" and "psych-o-logy" and has now turned to her first love--mythology and folklore.
As Sherry repeats pithy lines like "what would work when and for what" and "the key to the treasure is the treasure" a genie, played by Tim McDonough, appears from 20th century America, revealing the plot of the Arabian nights. Sherry tells the genie "all you have to do is supply me from the future of stories of the past," which she will use to fool the king.
Sherry goes to Sharyar's harem and begs him to allow Doony to accompany her, as they have not been separated from birth. At a tense moment in the long night Doony asks Sherry to tell one of her wonderful stories. By morning the story is still unfinished, so the king stays her execution until he can hear the end. This same procedure is repeated for 1001 nights with Doony sitting at the foot of the bed.
This bare plot is filled our with the genie's intermittent appearance and interesting reflections on love and the art of narrative. The mixture of ancient and modern traditions in the script, and the exotic scenery and costumes are the strongest aspects of this production. The Persuasive acting and fluid articulation of witty, almost tongue-twisting lines are impressive, but they lose their effectiveness because they necessitate too much concentration. Giroux and Patrick rapidly fire off clever, funny lines throughout the two and a half hours until it almost becomes tiring.
WHILE LOVE MAY EXIST in these 1001 stories, Sherry is convinced that in reality "men and women in instances may come together, not wives and husbands." The genie, on the other hand, optimistically believes in the triumph of successful relationships.
This argument fits into the broader theme of the play: can men and women live together as equals? Once the 1001st tale has been told, Sherry is forced to ask for forgiveness and Sharyar renounces his vow and proclaims her the "saviour of your sex" and proposes marriage.
At this point, the erotic fairytale both becomes more interesting since the feminist issue is at the forefront and more confusing and disappointing because that subject excessively dominates the remaining act without leaving us with any new ideas or approaches.
On their wedding night Sherry graciously thanks Sharyar in an entrancingly sarcastic tone for marrying her after 1001 nights of making love and after having his three kids, and asks to see her sister. When the wish is granted, she asks Doony "What are they [women] saved for? The patriarchy still remains...there's no victory only unequal retaliation."
Sherry offers her violent answer to the hopeless situation: "Cut his bloody engine off and then we'll kill ourselves and wake up in a world that doesn't know of he or she."
This violent solution is in marked opposition with the other ending that is offered. Doony is stopped by her husband Shah Zaman when he sincerely confesses that he had actually never killed all the virgins. The virgin who visited him the first night showed him the foolishness of the vow and set up a society of women to which he could send them while it would appear as if he was murdering them. "After all, none would choose death over emigration," she said. This scene is beautifully acted by Giroux and McDonough, as The Woman and Shah Zaman, who athletically bounce all over the set and slide into eye-catching positions together.
As Shah Zaman tritely concludes, "maybe love is a fiction, but it is the profoundest of all" and he and Doony decide to just wait until tomorrow to act, one is left with a frustrating sense of bewilderment. Which path in feminism is the drama supporting--aggressive separateness or passive complacency?
Furthermore, the erotic and sexual aspects are stretched to a sometimes offensive pitch. The constant return to the one theme rebounded on its intent--to awaken our minds to the issue--by hitting us over the head too many times.
The play will surely get some questions rolling in your mind-- Is equality possible? Have we progressed from the days of Ali Baba?--but it does not fulfill all its other duties as a piece of art. The live music played onstage is melodically enchanting: a synthesizer, harmonium, tambours, tors, but fails in its overall desired effect, costumes are also intriguing parts of a production that sets up a good plot, has lively and talented actors, but fails in its overall desired effect.