Tired of the gray skies and dirty snow of Cambridge? Well, it’s only going to get worse in January. But escape is possible! During reading period, three plays will transport their audiences to three very different places: Arabia, Ancient Troy, and the Garden of Eden.
“Shahrazad,” which will be presented in the Loeb Experimental Theatre from Jan. 10-12, promises to be “your Oriental fantasy come true,” says director Karol W. Malik ’08-’09.
The play will bring a slice of classical Arabian culture to the Ex: The audience won’t have chairs as seats, but floor cushions, and the cast includes aerial dancers and contortionists.
Originally written by famed Arabian writer Twafiq al-Hakim, “Shahrazad” picks up right where the famous “One Thousand and One Nights” leaves off, and attempts to uncover the obscurity behind Shahrazad, the mysterious woman, who captivates the king with her stories for over three years.
“If we accept that Shahrazad had enough knowledge and enchantment in her to weave rapturous stories for three years non-stop, and that she acquired this knowledge despite the fact that she was raised behind the tall walls of a palace like all the other chaste Muslim girls, then who or what is she?” asks Malik.
Malik translated al-Hakim’s text from Arabic into English himself, and he and the cast constantly refer to the original text.
“We refer back to the original many times for enlightenment, and sometimes adjust the script to fit the actors speaking it,” he says.
With this production, Malik is trying to present to American audiences an important play from Arabic literature that is practically unknown outside of the Middle East.
“I translated this play from Arabic hoping that it would serve to break down the wall that divides Eastern and Western literature,” he says.
“The Trojan War Will Not Take Place”
While “Shahrazad” follows what happens right after a well-known story, “The Trojan War Will Not Take Place,” which will be presented in the Agassiz Theatre only a few blocks away, looks at what happened right before another tale.
Written in 1935 by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux, “The Trojan War Will Not Take Place” takes place the day before the epic Trojan War breaks out between the Trojans and the Greek Mycenaeans. It follows prince Hector’s futile attempts to peacefully end the war.
“You’re meant to know the ending before the play, or I wouldn’t tell you,” says director Alex N. Chase-Levenson ’08. “The title is meant to be ironic, because everyone knows the Trojan War did take place.”
The play, however, won’t just cover the epic event as it happened.
“We’ve pulled it out of an explicit 1935 setting and tried to make it applicable to America on the brink of some of its recent wars,” says Chase-Levenson. “We’ll have half the cast in togas and masks and half in modern clothing.”
Chase-Levenson asserts that the production is not just about Homer’s Iliad.
“We’re putting on a modern drama that happens to be set in ancient Troy,” he says. “We’ve got an amazing cast, a terrific staff, and it’s a great story, even if you already know the ending.”
“Children of Eden”
Perhaps ironically, “Children of Eden,” a musical loosely based on the book of Genesis, is being co-directed by a Christian and an atheist.
Stephen Schwartz’s two-act musical, which focuses on the stories of Adam and Eve as well as Noah and the Flood, celebrates the unity of mankind and human experience and will run in the New College Theatre from Jan. 7-12.
“The musical is fresh, fun, and glitzy—along the lines of ‘Wicked,’” says Nelson T. Greaves ’10, who is directing along with Jonah C. Priour ’09. “Snakes dance in kick lines, God throws lightening bolts, and Noah builds an ark—while singing and dancing.”
“The show is particularly moving for me because it acknowledges that out of the indelible mystery of the universe come these unique and beautiful familial relationships,” says Greaves. “No matter what happens—floods, storms, plagues, bigger floods, biblical floods, really big floods—we still have the ability to value each other more than material possessions and/or ideologies.”
Because the co-directors have such different religious beliefs, they’re striving to find a balance between skepticism and piety.
“We’ve worked hard to bring together the best of both worlds,” says Greaves. “What it comes down to in either case is that life is its own rite of passage.”