'Arabian Nights' at Theatre Hopkins is a Magic Carpet Ride

By: Jun. 30, 2008

When I first read that Theatre Hopkins was going to undertake this ambitious production I have to admit I was very excited. I am a huge fan of Mary Zimmerman after witnessing her Tony-winning production of Ovid's Metamorphosis in 2002 (where the stage was a swimming pool) and her recent adaptation of Jason and the Argonauts myths, Argonautika at the Shakespeare Theater in Washington, DC.

However, both of those productions were directed by the acclaimed Zimmerman. But, not to worry, this production under the guidance of director Suzanne Pratt is in good hands.

What can one expect? Well, there's original music, singing, terrific choreography, superb belly-dancing, humor (some of which is of the gutter variety), and a great cast. What more can one ask for.

Regarding the music, this is the first original score in Theatre Hopkins' impressive 86th season (the second oldest theater group in Baltimore).  Kevin Clark, a Peabody Conservatory grad, is responsible for the music and he has a great future.  Anna Meadors plays a mean tenor saxophone during the entire evening. Kateri Chambers not only plays the leading role of Scheherazade, she plays the flute, and is the choreographer and boy can she belly dance. I have a whole new appreciation of this art watching her and the other actors go through their motions.  She's also a terrific actress.

All the voices are admirable but Dyana Neal certainly stands out. Many of the other actors play the cymbals and drums.

The set is made of up a collection of colorful Persian rugs (many from the home of Suzanne Straughn Pratt, the Artistic Director).  The actors use coat racks on both sides of the set to change into gorgeous costumes (assembled by Wil Crowther).

The stories you hear go back to 800 A.D. The basis of every version concerns King Shahryar (Michael Simon) who, when betrayed by his wife, vows to marry a virgin each day and have her executed each morning at dawn. Scheherazade, aware of her predicament when she is sent for by the King, has other ideas. She cleverly tells the King tales which are NOT finished by dawn so her execution keeps getting postponed. Simon is terrific as the King but he also gets to role-play in two of the stories told to him.

Towards the end of the play, one character inquires, "What is the principal aim of life?"

The response is "To cultivate enthusiasm." You'll get the message when you see the play.

You'll hear mentioned the towns of Baghdad, Basra, and other cities in Iraq we hear mentioned daily on the news. The play makes one remember Iraq has a rich cultural history.  I recommend you have dinner at the Helmand restaurant on N. Charles Street for a little taste of Afghanistan cuisine and then head  to the Swirnow Theater on the campus of Johns Hopkins University to enjoy this Persian delight. The Arabian Nights  which sorry to say must close Sunday, June 29. It deserves to run longer. Go to www.jhu.edu/theatre and you can see some podcasts of the dancing. For tickets, call 410-516-7159.

For comments, write to cgshubow@broadwayworld.com.