Last time Arabian Nights appeared on Berkeley Rep’s stage, it scored more critical acclaim than the Beatles on Ed Sullivan or Jesus on Easter - as well as nightly standing ovations with various forms of enthusiastic whooping. So Berkeley Rep wisely resurrected this gorgeous piece of theater for a limited run. With Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman at the helm, Arabian Nights is the infamous tale of a bride who spins a provocative web of genies, jesters, thieves and kings in hopes of saving her life.
There are moments in Mary Zimmerman hip and lively adaptation, “Arabian Nights” (just extended at Berkeley Rep) when the layers upon layers of the play’s shaggy-dog stories produce a punch drunkenness in the audience. We may have expected a old-world tableau of Egyptian intrigue. What we witness are winding yarns within yarns that tell far fetched tales of oddballs; a farting man, an randy green grocer with a big “cucumber”, a scabby, dribbling, gruesome bride. The comedy is low. The sub-plots dizzying.