New York City Theater
The Play Company at East 13th St. Theatre, Manhattan
First impressions of “Arabian Night” are signs of a straight linear story… Two women, Franziska and Fatima share an apartment. The ethereal, waiflike Franziska falls asleep on the couch each night, wrapped in dreams. Fatima, the earthy one, finds this convenient, as she awaits the daily arrival of her lover. At the same time, Hans, the super, attempts to solve the building’s water problems, wandering from apartment to apartment, and a peeping Tom watches a naked Franziska through a window.
From there on, however, reality disappears into a whirl of misadventures—and into dreams that are erotic and nightmarish. As images grow wilder, they are evocative of a German expressionist painting. Not so surprising, since the playwright is Roland Schimmelpfennig, a writer popular in today’s Germany. Even his name (if indeed it is his real name) gives off a sense of whimsical invention.
People are trapped in elevators, on distant deserts, in brandy bottles. Steamy sexual scenes ensue, as men give in to women’s ravening sexual demands. The sleeping Franziska is kissed by man after man, but the kiss of a Prince does not awaken the Sleeping Beauty. Fatima turns into a would-be killer, armed with a kitchen knife. Images coalesce and shatter, as indeed they do in dreams. Is it all Franziska’s dream?
In all, the piece challenges the mind but never engages the emotions—and, in fact, is not a play at all! Yet the production itself is imaginatively staged by Trip Cullman. Louisa Thompson’s set and Lenore Doxsee’s lighting add considerably to the eerie ambience. And Cullman certainly makes considerable demands on his five competent actors—Roxanna Hope, Piter Marek, Brandon Miller, Stelio Savante, and Jicky Schnee. It is not easy to extricate oneself from a brandy bottle or escape a stalled elevator or fend off a killer
-- Irene Backalenick
June 14, 2006