Target Margin Theater is presenting an interpretation of "One Thousand and One Nights," the story of a mad king who marries and kills a new bride each night, until he meets the enchanting Scheherazade, who tells him enthralling stories that keep her alive for another day.
The company has created a living theater piece, "Pay No Attention to the Girl," with blurred lines between storyteller and audience and a view of the tools of performance (stage hands and stage manager are included in the proceedings). There's a lot at work in this production, running through June 1 at Woolfe Street Playhouse.
The performers were fully committed and very engaging. Caitlin Nasema Cassidy starts the production by introducing herself as the director, David Herskovits, before starting a monologue she promptly forgets. The rest of the cast helps her out. It’s the first in a series of moments where the “story” and “storytellers” are intentionally unclear, as if they are making this up as they go.
James Tigger! Ferguson (that exclamation point is intentional, and for good reason) is enthralling, an actor impossible not to watch. Deepali Gupta, Anthony Vaughn Merchant, and Lori Vega round out the cast. There’s no real lead; it’s truly an ensemble piece. They are constantly changing characters in new stories, though Merchant plays most of the king characters with a contemporary tilt that draws laughs.
But some of the production elements left me unable to connect to the material. The opening was interesting: audience and performers are mingling in the shared space before, eventually, patrons are asked to sit down. Woolfe Street Playhouse felt too big a space for this kind of intimate work. The sound mixing was all over the place. Music came in and out of the scenes haphazardly, and sometimes was too loud, even for miked actors. When and why the actors were amplified seemed to be at random.
Scheherazade’s stories were interesting, though it could be difficult to know when we had switched back to the larger story. The feminist themes were loud and clear: the play has something to say about we shape and perceive women's stories. Important stuff in this day and age. But, for me, the telling left something to be desired.
Reviewer Michael Smallwood is a Charleston-based actor.