Jason Grote’s 1001 is flat-out the best thing I’ve seen so far in 2007. And I’ve seen a lot. You must put down that graphic novel immediately and rush out to see it.
Why am I gushing like this? For starters it’s huge. The character list includes a one-eyed Arab, a Jewish/Palestinian couple, Scheherezade, Dunsiad, Shariyah and the king’s Vizier, Gustave Flaubert and Jorge Luis Borges (now how many times can you say you saw a play that featured a blind Argentinian writer?). Due to the amazing Krazy Glue of Jason’s eclecticism, and the whole-cloth, filled with Unity direction of Ethan McSweeny, the entire thing not only holds together but seemingly expands, giving you plenty of space in which to contemplate the generous helping of ideas, symbols, comedy and pathos. Though the play runs only 110 minutes it feels as if an entire world is contained within.
Despite a cast of only 6, its character list positively sprawls; but due to McSweeny’s deft direction and the cast’s terrific chops (and faster than light costume changes), it doesn’t feel at all tight. The logistics of the production alone are worth watching, because the cast and technical crew pull off all the pyrotechnics – from places to moves to props – without a hitch.
One aspect of the show that’s not going to get a lot of attention but in this case definitely deserves it is the music. True to Jason’s 21st-century tastes, I can honestly say this is one play with a killer soundtrack. From dance-electronica to various forms of Arabic rhythms from the parodic to the sublime, suffused with subtle rock, this is an iPod of a show.
Rachel Hauck’s production design is top-notch and thoughtful. A series of colored lines on the floor guide you to your section, and once you spy the mise – a bombed and blasted NYC streetscape in Arena, with two-deep audience seating, you know you’re in good hands. Tyler Micoleau’s lighting is comprehensive to say the least. The backstage geek in me stopped counting at a 120 cues.
Page 73 Productions has stood behind this play all through its creation, from Jason’s initial drafts to the masterful concoction that’s now playing in Gramercy. They are to be commended for their support and patience, as works this ambitious can take years – in this case nearly 3 – to come to fruition.
So how to sum up? The nice couple from Jersey sitting next to me asked me, “what’s the play about?” I’d seen previous readings and hesitated, then blurted out – “it’s about how our lives are wrapped in stories, and how our lives wrap themselves around stories. It’s about the oldest story, the largest, about the tellers of stories, about their stories.”
1001 closes in only two short weeks (Nov 17) though the director said they might get a 1-week extension. The house is small. So you better get off your bum, get out there and catch it. It’s at the Baruch Performing Arts Center/Nagelberg Theater on E25 between Lex and Third.
PS: Variety‘s Mark Blankenship’s given Jason’s play a rave as well; have a look: