The last mainstage play of the spring semester, “Arabian Nights,” tells the story of Queen Shahrazad, who tries to use her gift of storytelling to avoid being executed by King Shahrayar, like many brides before her.
“Arabian Nights” also known as “One Thousand and One Nights” was originally a collection of West and South Asian stories written in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age in the eigth century A.D. According to the Encyclopaedia of Islam, the stories can be traced back to ancient Arabic, Persian, Indian, Egyptian and Mesopotamian folklore. Most editions of “Arabian Nights” have a frame story of the ruler and his new bride.
The King, enveloped by bitterness and grief, decides he will marry and then execute his brides in the morning before they have a chance to bring him dishonour. When he runs out of brides, Shahrazad offers herself for marriage. The night before her execution, Shahrazad tells the King a story and never completes it. The King decides to spare her life for the night, but the next day Sharazad begins a new story. This continues for 1,001 nights. Some of the stories include “Aladdin’s Wonderful Lamp,” “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “The Seven Voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.”
Gabriel Barre is the guest director for the production of “Arabian Nights” at VCU. Barre has directed plays internationally, including “Carmen” in Prague and “Tears of Heaven” in Seoul, South Korea. He has also acted in several theater productions and made appearances in television shows such as “Law and Order” and “Fame.”
Barre and a company of 100 students and faculty have been working on the play since February. He said he wanted to keep the production as simple as possible, so the message of the play could be clear.
“It’s been a weeding process for me, like ‘We can do this even simpler. We can do this even better by doing less,’” Barre said. “It’s been a really great exercise for me and for all of us involved.”
Even though the play does not traditionally include music, Barre said he wanted to include a musical component. He found a score, and hired local musician Bentley Cobb to be the music director. When they looked at the score, they found that it was all hand-written. Barre said he wanted a more original piece of music, so he worked with Cobb to create a new score to the production.
“He has a fantastic score with over 125 music cues throughout the show,” Barre said. “Cobb will be playing as the percussionist, in addition he has brought in a cellist and a reed player.”
Barre said not only does he want the audience to leave entertained, but for this particular play, he also wants people to be moved.
“The power of stories can open our hearts, help us see ourselves and each other,” Barre said. “Also it helps us get to know the rest of the world.”
With this play in particular, Barre said audience members get the chance to learn about a new culture. Even though there are many differences between Americans and citizens from the Middle East, essentially people are the same underneath, Barre said. When people have something in common, they can still find ways to communicate without speaking the same language.
“Theater is the one place where we can celebrate what bonds us together in the human experience,” Barre said.
“Arabian Nights” premieres April 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the W.E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts on 922 Park Ave. The play will run April 12, 17-19 and 24-26 at 7:30 p.m. The performance will also take place April 13 and 27 at 3 p.m. General admission tickets are $25 and tickets for seniors, VCU faculty and staff are $20. Tickets for VCU students with a valid ID are $10 and other student tickets cost $15.