CSU, Chico to Stage Production of "The Arabian Nights," November 6-11 in Wismer Theatre
CSU, Chico’s School of the Arts will bring to life the magical world of “The Arabian Nights” for its next theatre production.
“The Arabian Nights,” directed by Department of Music and Theatre faculty member Katie Whitlock, will have performances November 6-10 at 7:30 p.m. and November 10 and 11 at 2 p.m. in Wismer Theatre, the Performing Arts Center’s small, intimate “black box” theatre.
Chico State’s production of “The Arabian Nights” was written by Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman, considered in theatre circles as a pioneer in working with ensembles as well as adapting classic stories into theatrical form.
“Her most well-known work is ‘Metamorphosis,’ which premiered in Chicago and then had a successful Broadway run,” noted Whitlock. “Most recently she worked in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival staging the world premiere of her new work, ‘The White Snake.’”
Zimmerman’s adaptation of “The Arabian Nights” was initially performed in the shadow of the first Gulf War at the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago in 1992. The play has been described by the New York Times as “a celebration of the salutary powers of storytelling.”
“The Arabian Nights” weaves ancient tales of wonder into a poetic testament to the transformational power of storytelling. The play is built around the seductive narrative prowess of Scheherezade, the bride of the caliph Shahryar, who having been cuckolded by his first wife, now beds, and murders, a different virgin every night. Scheherezade, as readers of the book know, postpones her execution by telling the caliph intricate fables, stopping tantalizingly short of their conclusions just before dawn.
“She re-integrates him back into the real world through fiction, through story,” said Whitlock. “These classic tales of love, lust, hilarity and sorrow present the encyclopedia of human experience, imagination and poetry in the familiar and exotic realm of the book.”
Anyone with an interest in myth, culture, story, and human experience should find something of interest in “The Arabian Nights,” noted Whitlock. “The play is by nature a journey for the viewer, and each person who joins us will hopefully find something funny, erotic, romantic, and enchanting.”
CSU, Chico’s production will be ensemble based. The majority of the actors will be portraying several different characters.
Leading the cast is Scheherezade, played by Theatre alumni Sepideh Burgiani (last seen onstage in the School of the Arts’ “The Revenger’s Tragedy”), and the caliph, Shahryar, played by Alexander Ritchey (last seen as the Woodcutter in “Rashomon,” also produced by the School of the Arts). Other familiar faces include Murphy Mayer (“Vatzlov”), Chelsea Haskell (“Oklahoma!”), Ernesto Rosales (“Vatzlov”), Krystal Elebiary (“Anonymous”), Nate Whitaker (“Vatzlov)”, and Madison Kisst (“The Revenger’s Tragedy”).
“The full cast of 18 includes majors, minors, and non-majors and is a broad sample of the various skill levels and talents of students at CSU, Chico,” said Whitlock, noting that the cast members seem to be adjusting well to the challenges of playing multiple characters.
“This show demands a level of movement and physicality, which is both challenging and exciting for our students, providing for a lively rehearsal process. Also the blend of humor and drama in this work is pushing students to play the limits of their range in terms of creating stories that are both clear and engaging for our audience.”
Chico State’s production of “The Arabian Nights” is set in the ancient Middle East and will include dancing, singing, improvisation, and traditional storytelling. Joining Whitlock in staging the production will be Department of Music and Theatre staff member Sandy Barton (costumes) and Theatre students McKenna Perry (set), Keith Bratton (lighting design), and Mikey Perdue (choreography). Whitlock has taken on the sound design to go along with her directing duties.
“This show is designed to be a world of mystery and play. The set and costumes are still being developed to best suit the ensemble nature of the show as actors move from place to place, character to character, with very little time between each. Our student designer is creating a set with a nod towards the classic image of a desert palace to take us from Egypt to Arabia to India in the blink of an eye. This is a world of sensuality and physicality so the costumes will nod to tradition while still serving to present our vision of this classic story.”
“The Arabian Nights” is a favorite of educational institutions, noted Whitlock, because it serves multiple educational purposes.
“This show serves several needs in terms of artistic and educational perspectives. The play is by a leading theatre artist of the 21st century and it calls for inventive, ensemble-based work, which is ideal for the collegiate environment. It also deals with the Middle East and different perspectives from our own, serving the idea of diversity. Not to mention it is a great piece of theatre that focuses on storytelling and theatre in relation to the human condition.”
Whitlock hopes audience members that make it to the production discover the world of “The Arabian Nights” with the same sense of wonder, humor, eroticism, and enchantment that mirrors Shahryar’s journey in the play.
“The Arabian Nights” is written for audiences of most ages, although there is touch of eroticism in keeping with the original tales. Whitlock recommends a “parental discretion” rating as far as bringing children to the show and cautions that some of the historic favorites from the tales such as Aladdin, Sinbad, and Ali Baba are not included in this version.
Advance tickets, at $15 adults, $13 senior citizens, and $6 students/children, are available at the University Box Office, 898-6333; add $2 for tickets purchased at the door. For disability-related seating, please call 898-4325.
"Arabian Nights" promotional and rehearsal photos by Sean Chen