MetroStage’s The Thousandth Night is a Five Star Perfect Night at the Theater
How do you define the perfect night at the theater? Does it make you laugh? Does it make you cry? Do you witness a tour de force performance? Does it give you food for thought on the car ride home? Does it change your mind or heart in some deep way?
The answer is all of the above. The Thousandth Night, currently playing in rep at MetroStage, is that rare night at the theater that both celebrates and shatters the human spirit. A brilliant script by Carol Wolf, a tour de force performance by Marcus Kyd, and sensitive and insightful direction by John Vreeke all contribute to a theatrical experience that will linger in the consciousness long after the lights go down.
There are so many layers of complexity to The Thousandth Night. Guy de Bonheur is an actor with a traveling company of players who are stuck in Paris during the occupation of France. As Guy says wryly, “How were we to know Herr Hitler was opening here the same week?” One by one, members of his acting company have fled, disappeared, or been deported. Guy is arrested for “propagating subversive material” and is being deported. When his train is sabotaged by members of the French resistance, he escapes from the platform and seeks refuge in the train station. His one chance for freedom before the train starts moving again is to win the support of a group of French gendarmes (the audience) by entertaining them with “amusements” that are not subversive. Guy becomes a male Scheherazade as he relates and acts all the parts in some of the most famous of the Tales of the Arabian Nights, spinning out stories in a chance to win his freedom.
As an actor, Marcus Kyd faces a challenge of immense proportions. Throughout the play, he is the self-effacing Guy de Bonheur, an actor who is fighting not just for his life, but for his soul. The stakes are high and Kyd keeps that current of tension just beneath the surface. It is through the stories and plays he re-enacts, as well as his the interactions with the gendarmes that we learn Guy’s backstory, the actions and inactions that have brought him to this train station outside of Paris in 1943. Kyd’s portrayal of Guy de Bonheur is poignant, moving, courageous, and appropriately desperate.
Yet, Guy is also an actor and a storyteller. To win the favor of the gendarmes, he performs stories from his company’s productions, including Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, the Fisherman and the Genie, and the story of Scheherazade. Not only does he fully embody each character in the plays he performs, giving them individual and memorable voices and characteristics, he also does so as actors from his company playing individual characters. He transitions seemingly effortlessly from hunchback to nagging tailor’s wife to a ham actor portraying the captain of the thieves to a powerful genie with traces of Hitler and the Nazis in his demeanor. To do so requires so many levels of complex emotion, as well as innate comic timing, and Kyd is masterfully up to the demands of the script.
James Kronzer effectively captures the essence of a cramped waiting room at a train station outside Paris, creating a set that can be a blank slate for the magic that Kyd weaves as Guy de Bonheur. Alexander Keen, and Robert Garner beautifully blend their skills as lighting and sound designers to recreate the sounds of a train station during war time. It truly felt as though a train crashed at the opening of the show, and their combined efforts heightened the sense of danger throughout The Thousandth Night. Ivania Stack’s costumes and props struck the right notes for the time period. Stack made ingenious use of the costume pieces in Guy’s suitcase, providing enough elements for him to creatively transform himself into 38 different characters.
John Vreeke’s direction of The Thousandth Night is insightful and sensitive. He helps Marcus Kyd find the right balance between the physical and verbal comedy of the stories, the real and growing fears associated with deportation, and Guy’s own increased sense of his own morality, culpability, and ultimately courage. Vreeke’s direction lands the audience square in the uncomfortable position of being the gendarmes, forced into an uncomfortable place of having someone’s life in their hands but being unwilling to break the conventions to help him escape. It is a masterful stroke, and one that should cause audience members to reflect on what it means to sit by and do nothing in the face of terror.
MetroStage’s The Thousandth Night is an evocative, emotional, and thought-provoking piece of theater at its finest. Marcus Kyd’s tour de force performance as he carries the audience from the soaring heights of comic storytelling to the heartbreaking depths of human frailty, is one that should not be missed.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, with no intermission.
The Thousandth Night plays through May 18, 2014 and is playing in rep with Underneath the Lintel, which plays through May 25, 2014 at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-9044, or purchase them online.