'Arabian Nights' weaves its magical tales
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
|Jeff Gere will relate tales of Arabian nights and Baghdad days, with accompaniment by two musicians, a dancer and shadow puppets. The evening champagne performances are a tad racier than the matinees.
'The Arabian Nights'
With Jeff Gere, storyteller; Steven Rosenthal, reeds and pipes; Reggae McGowen, percussion; Willow Chang, Middle Eastern dance 4 Tales, 4 Sundays @ 2 p.m. at the Doris Duke at the Academy:
Sunday "The Garden of Delights"
Feb. 23 "The City of Brass"
March 2 "The Fisherman's Tale"
March 9 "The Porter's Tale"
532-8700, firstname.lastname@example.org 4 Tales, 6 Friday Nights, at the Opium Room, Indigo Eurasian Cuisine:
Feb. 7, 14 "The Garden of Delights"
Feb. 21 "The City of Brass"
March 7, 14 "The Porter's Tale"
8 to 9:30 p.m.
$20, includes champagne
Either way, the programs enable four artists of storytelling, musical and dance disciplines to bring to life tales of slave girls and wazirs, of fishermen and Baghdad ladies, gardens of delight and genies.
Organizer Jeff Gere, who is the narrator-storyteller in this occasionally erotic, occasionally titillating endeavor, is particularly excited about the tapestry of tales that combines high adventure with monstrous palaces, blood and some gore, caravans and beggars based on original writings and modified for modern audiences.
"It wasn't easy to get this booked," he said of his unusual quest.
First off, he couldn't find a nighttime slot at the art museum, which had hired him to help launch the Doris Duke theater, named after the millionaire who had a passion for Middle Eastern art and culture. He had to serve up a sample of his literary and historic concoction before settling into a 2 p.m. time slot. With National Endowment for the Humanities and Asian Art Endowment Fund backing, the academy theater performances will be staged free to the public, albeit in a slightly sanitized, family-oriented version.
For the Indigo crowd, from 8 to 9:30 p.m., he can deliver a slightly more adult show, with a glass of champagne for each attendee.
These stories "are the classic literature of Arabia, written in the 13th century," said Gere, a professional storyteller. "The original stories are long, with language not easily understood, so we've simplified and combined tales, added music (with Steve Rosenthal on reeds and pipes, and Reggae McGowen on percussion) and dance (Middle Eastern dance and belly-dancing by Willow Chang)."
A work in progress, its shape likely will change as the concept evolves. Gere is augmenting his stories with shadow puppets to help progress or punctuate a tale or two.
Still, it was a tough sell.
"Even Indigo wanted to see what we had in mind," he said.
Obviously, they bought into the concept; Gere felt the Opium Room was the perfect environment for the vehicle.
Gere said "things started falling from the sky, when I started telling people of the show and putting it together."
To wit: "One guy comes up with curled-up shoes, like Aladdin's, and boom, they fit my feet."
Then brass lamps and lattice work and pillbox Arabian hats he found for $1 apiece at thrift shops.
Gere said the original tales were highly erotic, not necessarily offensive, but suggestive in language and tone. "The Arabs didn't paint pictures; they painted with words, and the narrative is loaded with beautiful phrases."
He was amazed, too, at the structure how one story had a story within the story, with characters telling additional stories that ultimately all come together at the end.
His mission was "to make these stories come to life."