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Sheherizade: Why Ten Dancing Heads Are Better Than One (Fringe Festival 2012)

by Stephen Tortora-Lee on August 20, 2012

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When Sheherizade began, it seemed like this might just be a production where there was interpretive dance to help us feel part of the story. But once the story of the storytelling began I was quickly swept up by the organic flow of this piece, wrapped up in the stories as dance, storytelling, a strange type of puppetry, and the hopes and dreams of the characters in the stories-within-stories blended into a magical world that is a wonderful successor of the original .

Director Priscila Garcia along with Director of Movement Anne Marie Bookwalter did a great job of working together to create a beautiful flow which seamlessly transported the audience from one magical world after the next, and made this show an experience I’ll never forget.

Sheherizade starts with the story of a troubled king who has taken up the nasty habit of marrying a new woman every day, only to behead her the day after the wedding. The first scene is simple: nothing but drums and dance and flowing red silk representing the blood the King is shedding, as well as the terrible emotions he is harboring. The King’s pain and rage as well as the sadness of those having to live with the results of his murders is clearly shown through expressive dance and movement.

We then shift to an even more troubled adviser who has had the charge of minimizing the damage this mad King does by placating him as well as supplying him with new brides. He confesses the King’s crimes to his wise daughter Sheherizade hoping for some counsel or comfort, because he is truly at his wit’s end. Wanting to ease her father’s troubles as well as those of the kingdom, Sheherizade quickly colludes with her sister to hatch a plan to end the King’s reign of terror.

She does this by offering to be the next bride, but instead of waiting until the morning to await her fate as others had done, she asks for sister to come with her, for it has always been there way to end the night in a story. surely he could give into this one final request.

Before telling you a little about the three tales covered in this lush and delicious 40 minute production I wanted to make a quick note about a wonderful technique in this piece. There is not one Sheherizade, and not one King. The role of Sheherizade was passed from one character to the next after every story like some early tribesman passing a totem one to the next to allow another to speak a story around the fire in days past.

This allowed for a different cadence and enactment of the storytelling as well as allow all to be part of the stories. I fell into the story deeper as one never knew what was going to happen next. The cast worked as a wonderful organic whole from the first moment of the play to the last; many thanks to Alex Akin, Terry Kenard Barnes, Erron Crawford, Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., Michael McGuire, Jordan Phillips, Lucia Roderique, Alex Speith, Jasmine Thomas, Josh Wilder for all being the stars as well as costars of this play.  Great ensemble effort.

The first story was that of Liang and the Magic Paintbrush, a well known folk tale from China. Liang is a poor man who wishes more than anything to save up his money to buy a paintbrush. A good fairy takes a magical paintbrush from a scholar who had been hoarding it away for many years, and tells Liang he must do Good with the paintbrush. When Liang finishes the final stroke in a drawing of a butterfly it flies off the page as it comes to life. Liang does many good deed from then on from drawing fish for the hungry, to drawing a well for a village. Eventually the Emperor hears of his exploits and captures Liang and commands for him to to draw him mountains of gold. Liang does this but also draws a sea between the Emperor and his gold and a boat for him to reach it by. When he is commanded to draw some wind he instead draws a hurricane that wrecks the boat and the people are freed from the emperors conceited and self-serving rule. The King who has been listening to this story doesn’t like the ending, but enjoyed the story and Sheherizade.

The second story is from the Dutch tradition of storytelling, and was called The Most Precious Thing In The World. There once was a very rich Lady (played by Michael McGuire) who was so rich that she was bored with all of her gold and jewels and sent her favorite captain out into the world with a ship full of gold to purchase The Most Precious Thing In The World.  While he is gone everyone wonders what sort of thing he will return with.  He brings lovely golden wheat which he says will feed all of her people and The Lady commands he toss it into the sea because she is so mad he missed the point of his assignment. There it grows and chokes off all  shipping into her country and causes the ruin of her fortune.  An interesting concept used in this piece was that everyone in it moved as if they were puppets with dangling arms and shuffling legs and bobbing heads.  That, plus Michael McGuire’s pronouncing of the h’s in wheat really made this an entertaining piece.

The third story was about Mansa Musa The Lion King Of Mali. In the story we hear of how the famous King made his country of Mali so amazingly successful in the 14th century (taken from this 2001 version by Khephra Burns). Kankan Musa was captured by slave traders and taken deep into the desert, a place very foreign to him. He was tutored by Tariq in new ways of seeing the world and eventually learns that in order to be a good King (or human being for that matter) it is more important to be compassionate than to be fierce … more important to be knowledgeable than to be controlling.  By learning  humility fighting against the destructive tendencies that live in us all, this helped him to become one of the greatest leaders of a nation ever.

This final powerful story heals the King of his rage and pride at last as the overall story ends with him embracing Sheherizade and weeping.

The choices and crafting of the stories by playwright Aidaa Peerzada (along with story design of each of the individual pieces by Rodney Earl Jackson Jr., Priscila Garcia, and Anne Marie Bookwalter) was exquisitely done in a very touching and thoughtful way that is a good example to all.  The music design pulled us through the story with excitement and magic, and the lighting by Calvin Johnson highlighted everyone’s strongly emotional faces beautifully throughout each scene.  The costumes by Patricia Sehar Peerzada were  entrancing, never distracting to the plot.  They blended in beautifully with the stories.

Seeing Bathwater Productions’ Sheherizade was a very joyful and meaningful experience, and like the King in the story I was sorry when it was done and hoped I could hear just one more story before I left.


Bathwater Productions
Writer: Aidaa Peerzada
Director: Aidaa Peerzada and Rodney Earl Jackson Jr.
Choreographer: Aidaa Peerzada and Rodney Earl Jackson Jr.
A Slam/Musical adaptation of The Arabian Nights, incorporating movement, puppetry and stories from around the world. The new bride of a violent king tells fantastical tales, to ward off her death, and lure the King into overcoming his sadness.
0h 40m   National   San Francisco, California
Musical   Spoken Word/Poetry
Staycation: Fantasy Island Excursion   Overseas Adventure
VENUE #15: The New School for Drama Theatre
Wed 15 @ 3:45  Thu 16 @ 6:30  Sat 18 @ 8  Sun 19 @ 5:15

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Keith JohnsonNo Gravatar September 1, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Congratulations! To the writers cast and prodution team of Sheherizade. Way to go Sehar and Aidaa. That was a great review. I am sure it will go up again somewhere and next time I’ll get to see it.

Keith and Mischelle

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