A Number of Reasons to Avoid "1001" at Berkeley City Club

Categories: Last Night
Photo by Jay Yamada
Pictured: Rachel Rajput and Anthony Nemirovsky

Scheherazade, the Persian queen at the center of One Thousand and One Nights, tells story after story in order to stay alive. Her life is the dream of any masochistic artist: each night brings a new deadline, and she needs to keep spinning out narratives if she wants to keep her head.

Jason Grote's play 1001, now making its Bay Area premiere at the Berkeley City Club, offers a particularly inventive take on Scheherazade's story. Alternating between the Persian past and the American present, exploring both well-known tales and contemporary politics, it's a wide-ranging piece with a huge amount of potential. In this particular production, however, potential is all you're gonna get.

Grote's script requires fairly elaborate costumes and sophisticated stagecraft -- he barrels through an impressive number of eras and storylines in just 90 minutes. That isn't necessarily a dealbreaker for a super-low budget production like this one; it just means that director Jonathan Spector needs to find clever ways to maximize what he's got.

He should've maximized a little more. Much of the show looks like a school pageant. Spector also has trouble with pacing and tone -- the show feels awfully long for 90 minutes, and he seems unsure how to produce dramatic effects without giving the audience an unsubtle nudge.

It may be that Grote's text is the source of some of the problems here. But I don't think so. This simply seems to be a case where a director can't get control over a complex and difficult play.

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