Take a trip through a magical world filled with powerful kings, beautiful women and captivating stories.
Each can be discovered in the Cal Poly Arts’ production of “The Arabian Nights.” Director Al Schnupp, along with a talented team of costume designers, lighting technicians and stagehands bring alive this enchanting classic by Mary Zimmerman.
We are taken through the 10th century, within the palace of King Shahryar as the tale of seduction and the mending of a broken heart takes place.
The story begins with the main character, Shahryar (Beau Harris), finding his wife in bed with a slave. Out of anger and distress, he kills them both. He pronounces that women are evil and that “love today will give way to madness tomorrow.”
From then on he marries a new woman every night only to make love to her and then end her life. He continues on with this tradition until all the women in his kingdom have vanished because they were taken away by their families out of fear.
Shahryar demands that the daughter of one of his servants be brought to the palace. No matter how much the servant protests, he is forced to give into Shahryar’s request.
The servant’s daughter, Scheherzade (Sarah Butler), is informed of the dreadful news and she surprises her father by appearing to be calm. In reality, she has devised a plan to rid Shahryar of his heavy heart and to help change his ways forever.
Along with her younger sister, Dunyazade (Ashley Merchak), Scheherzade is able to convince the king to allow her to live night-by-night as she tells him her legendary tales.
Through her vivid stories, Scheherzade takes Shahryar on a journey, transporting the king throughout the Middle East, from Persia to India.
“The Arabian Nights” is a collection of seven stories within a story, with moving tales such as “The Perfidy of Wives,” and “The Forgotten Melody.” Within each story lies a lesson to be learned and with each tale, Shahryar discovers his heart lightening.
Scheherzade has worked her magic, but will it save her life and change Shahryar’s cold heart forever?
Throughout the play, not one detail has been overlooked. Everything from the magnificent stage to the witty lines is perfect.
The stage is not really a stage at all; it has been transformed into a vibrant palace where colors of gold, green and red dance around, creating a setting unlike any other. Lavish steps covered in detailed carpets and colorful umbrellas, lamps and beaded doorways adorn the stage.
Calling it a stage undermines the creativity and work put into this play. The stage is enough to capture one’s mind and keep it transfixed for quite sometime. But the details don’t end there.
Costume designer Kathy Dugan truly brings the characters alive with gold-brooched hats, sumptuous gold-rimmed robes, brightly colored scarves and fine jewelry. Dugan didn’t miss a thing.
However brilliant the setting and costumes are, nothing can bring to life the stories within “The Arabian Nights” quite like the actors.
Each actor plays multiple characters as each story is being told. Their ability to transform so quickly and to embrace each character’s traits in the blink of an eye is undeniable. They have mastered the true art of transformation and the audience will find themselves in a sea of emotions.
One moment you will be uneasy and nervous as you watch Shahryar spare Scheherzade just one more night of freedom; the next moment you will be laughing at the ongoing wit the cast presents.
The most prevalent themes throughout the play are love, lust and eroticism. This play is not for the bashful or faint-hearted. As it is said in the play, “There is nothing shameful speaking of those things that lie below our waist.”
Despite lavish costumes and extravagant decorations, hard work and dedication are what truly lie behind the curtain. The cast has been hard at work since the first week of the fall quarter and rehearsals began immediately after.
Professor Al Schnupp had the vision of bringing Mary Zimmerman’s masterpiece to life.
“I think the play has a powerful message (about) the healing power of storytelling,” Schnupp said. “The play might help counter negative images people have of the Middle East as audiences are treated to the richness of the cultural traditions of that area.”
Schnupp brought his vision to life detail by detail.
“I relied upon life experience and professional experience,” he explained. “I try to look at the thrust, theme and key idea of each story and go from there, expanding on ways to realize that story in three dimensions. ”
The actors had just as much work on their plate: They only had three weeks to learn their lines, and they are constantly building their characters, Schnupp said.
“Polishing a character lasts right up to opening night and continues during the run of the show,” he said.
Schnupp has directed more than 20 plays at Cal Poly, including “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” many Greek plays, tragicomedies by Friedrich Duerrenmatt and several plays by MoliŠre.
Make sure to go see his newest treasure this weekend. Opening night is 8 p.m. tonight in the Alex and Faye Spanos Theatre.
Other upcoming shows are at 8 p.m. Nov. 9 and Nov. 10 and at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 to Nov. 17.