Arabian Nights Review - Your Story or Your Life

What a first date! Most girls would be pretty thrilled to have a date with the king and a chance to be the next queen.  But there’s one tiny catch.  The king has discovered his wife in another man’s arms and has vowed ruthlessly to murder every virgin in the kingdom. Scheherezade is next. 

Shahryar (Ryan Artzberger) meets the courageous storyteller, Sheherezade (Louise Lamson)

Greeted with a knife at her throat, her only hope is that her wits are sharper than king Shahryar’s dagger.  Scheherezade's life literally depends on the power of her stories and she comes through with one mesmerizing tale after another, saving and affirming life.

Tony Award-winning Ensemble Member Mary Zimmerman returns to the Water Tower Water Works with her Lookingglass Original adaptation of one of the world’s most enduring works of  literature. Zimmerman’s story is a feast for the senses.  The Middle Eastern music—instruments such as the Oud and the odd harmonies of the vocals—carry us directly into this foreign world.

Middle Eastern Music and Dance contribute to the magical experience

The movement—sometimes athletic and acrobatic, sometimes hypnotic, exotic, sensual dance—hold us in that world and keep us riveted to it.

Athletic, graceful movement and Middle Eastern Dance

Add to that the lush carpets and lanterns and the fantastic costumes (one character is simply enveloped by his pants!) and there you have it: you’re mesmerized, hooked, totally engrossed!  No wonder the show has been held over to August 9!

Lush carpets and lanterns add to the exotic ambience

But what holds us is not that the story is strange.  As Zimmerman puts it, “In spite of time, distance and the rhetoric of difference, we find in these characters and tales—over and over—ourselves.” Visit to hear her in-depth explanation of the role of stories and storytelling in healing, compassion and truth.

Feminine Mystique?

Discovering ourselves and the learning that is a direct result of that discovery is what makes The Arabian Nights such a delightful, magical, amusing evening of theater.  The stories range from perplexing and profound—with surprising casting including women playing men and confidence in hilarious material (a fart joke, of all things!)  that pushes the limits of a laugh.  And we, the audience, couldn’t get enough.

The Arabian Nights is an important part of Lookingglass’ storied history.  In 1992, Lookingglass first rehearsed and produced The Arabian Nights in Maine followed closely by two other productions in Chicago.  Again produced in 1997, in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and then the Steppenwolf Studio Theater, The Arabian Nights garnered Jeff Citations for Best Production, Best Direction, Best Ensemble and Best Original Music.  The 2009 production, featuring ensemble members David Catlin, Andy White and Heidi Stillman, all of whom appeared in the inaugural production, illustrates the continuity and creative depth of these relevant, universal, ancient stories.

Artistic Director David Catlin in one of many fascinating costumes

The amazing ensemble acting illuminates the breadth and depth of stories.  Each has many roles--some even change genders--but, they transparently morphed into their characters: Ensemble Members Andy White (Abu al-Hasan), Artistic Director David Catlin (The Robber), Artistic Associate Louise Lamson (Scheherezade), and Artistic Director of New Work Heidi Stillman (Dunyazade). The cast also included Barzin Akhavan (Harun al-Rashid), Usman Ally (Mad Man), Ryan Artzberger (Shahryar), Minita Gandhi (The Other Woman), Emjoy Gavino (Boy/Slave Girl), Allen Gilmore (Ishak of Mosul), Susaan Jamshidi (Sympathy the Learned), Ronnie Malley (Musician), Ramiz Monsef(Sage), Nicole Shalhoub (Perfect Love), Louis Tucci (Musician).

This is a stunning production in every way. Go.  Experience it. At least once. 

The redemptive power of storytelling

The Arabian Nights, a Lookingglass Original adapted and directed by Ensemble Member Mary Zimmerman

WHEN: Until August 9.
WHERE: Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago’s historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave.
HOW: Buy online at or by phone at (312)337-0665. The Lookingglass box office is located at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave.

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