A 9 hour game? Sit down, eat, drink, and even fall asleep at 'One Night'.

The inspiration for “One Night,” the nine-hour theatrical event at the Target Margin Theater in Brooklyn, began about 3,000 nights ago. ...


The inspiration for “One Night,” the nine-hour theatrical event at the Target Margin Theater in Brooklyn, began about 3,000 nights ago. Or, to tell the story another way, it started over 1,000 years ago when certain folk tales from the Middle East and India first appeared in Arabic collections. “One Night” distills these intertwined tales, known as “One Thousand and One Nights” or the “One Thousand and One Nights.” Some editions include dozens of tales; few hundreds. So when you think about it, nine hours is not very long at all.

“What it’s really, for me, is a long storytelling adventure,” David Herskovits, Target Margin’s creative director, said in a recent video call.

Target Margin, an Off Broadway mainstay, has told stories for more than 30 years, earning a reputation for deconstructing complicated texts – Plato’s “Symposium”; plays by Gertrude Stein; the two parts of Goethe’s “Faust” – and to offer them again with colorful costumes, playful lights and ornate scenes with 99-cent store pizzazz. For a company that happily moves from German opera to Greek tragedy to Yiddish folklore, an extended stay in the Middle East should come as no particular surprise. But the company has never worked on a show for so many years or served so much food to the public – fruit, pastries, popcorn, chocolate, tofu bowls, grape ceviche.

That work started about eight years ago with Moe Yousuf, then associate art director, now an MBA student (“He’s no fool,” Herskovits said). Even though the society was by then enmeshed in exploring Eugene O’Neill for years, Yousuf took turns reading aloud “One Thousand and One Nights” with other members in the society’s office in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.

Herskovits didn’t think anything would necessarily come of it. But he became fascinated with stories and their complicated textual history.

“There is no text,” he said enthusiastically. “What you have is a tradition of stories, layered over so many different languages, cultures, religions and geographical locations.”

As a lifelong storyteller, he also relished the primacy of narrative in stories – especially the setting story. In this story, King Shahryar, outraged by his wife’s infidelity, decides to marry a virgin every night, put her to bed, and then kill her before she has a chance to dishonor him. He kills a number of women until his vizier presents him with his own daughter, Scheherazade. That first night – and for a thousand nights after – she tells a story so thrilling that the king suspends her execution so she can continue.

“I always describe this process as: how many different ways can you play on the phone?” said performer Anthony Vaughn Merchant, who joined the game in 2017, referring to the children’s game in which players whisper a message to each other, transmuting the message as the game progresses.

None of these stories are played directly, not only because Target Margin has rarely confronted text head-on (please, it’s right there in the company name), but also because the stories themselves – with their gender, violence and exotic locations – invite Orientalist perspectives. . And many stories, including the setting story, promote a misogynistic worldview.

Rawya El Chab, actress of Lebanese origin, grew up with these stories. When she started working with Target Margin in 2019, she worried about how informed they would be. “Are we going to say that all these Arab women need to be saved, which is mostly the narrative that scares me, that Arab men are bullies and Arab women need to be saved? she said in a recent video call.

But she soon learned that Target Margin emphasizes collaborative creation, which encourages conversation among company members. “What’s amazing about working with David is the ability to have a constant dialogue,” she said.

Dina El-Aziz, an Egyptian-born costume designer who first worked with Target Margin in “Don’t Mind the Girl,” also knew these stories from childhood. And she appreciated the liberties the company took with them, as they had repeatedly told them.

“We’re not doing an exact ‘Arabian Nights’ retelling,” she said. “It’s a group of people in a garage in Brooklyn.” She let this approach inform the costumes. “I deliberately avoided harem pants,” she said.

Pandemic closures interrupted these explorations. But in the second year of the pandemic, Herskovits felt the need to return to those tales, with a totalizing show that would combine what the company had already created with new material, interpolating stories from other traditions and personal stories as well. It became the nine o’clock “One Night”. For some performances, the company spreads the material over two nights; other times they occur from afternoon to midnight. Some performances take place from dusk to dawn.

“It’s the dream,” Herskovits said of those nighttime performances. “That’s what Scheherazade does.”

It is a challenge, of course, for the actors. When he first experienced nighttime performance, at a dress rehearsal, Vaughn Merchant found it exhausting. “It was like, Oh, this is hard,” he said. But it’s gotten easier since then. Now, he says, the hours pass.

El Chab accepted. “You feel tired at the end,” she said, “but you feel a sense of release, you feel a sense of joy to have accomplished this.”

Herskovits also wants the release and joy of the public. Which explains the food, as well as Carolyn Mraz’s cozy ensemble, dotted with comfy sofas, ottomans and ottomans. Breaks are encouraged. If someone were to fall asleep, that would be fine too.

“It might even be great,” Herskovits said. “It’s as if you were a little child, someone is telling you a story. It would be wonderful.

One rainy Saturday, I stopped into an afternoon-to-evening performance, settling into a buttercup sofa with a cup of herbal tea. An actress (actually a stagehand, Kate Budney, valiantly filling in for an absent performer) stopped and told a small group of us the Bible story of Esther. Then the room was reset to the tale of the doorman and the three ladies of Baghdad, derived from the “One Thousand and One Nights”, which contained several other stories – dogs, a dervish, the son of a caliph who beat his wife – smuggled inside.

The room reset to the tale of Sindbad’s Seven Voyages, during which bowls of (delicious!) tofu were served. Then the cast took to the stage at the back of the room to discuss how Scheherazade, having given birth to King Shahryar three children and entertained him for 1,001 nights, finally won his forgiveness. (Which means she can stay married to a rapist and a serial killer. Happy endings are weird.)

“And that’s the completion and the end of their story,” said a performer with quick finality.

But, of course, that was not the case. It was just after 7 p.m. The show still had four hours to go.

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Newsrust - US Top News: A 9 hour game? Sit down, eat, drink, and even fall asleep at 'One Night'.
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