This isn’t just a smart production—it’s a brilliant postmodern adaptation of the “Arabian Nights, ” where Scheherazade’s famous interlocking stories, with the cliffhanger endings that kept King Shahriyar so enraptured in ancient Persia, are interwoven with a contemporary story of an Arab-Jewish interracial relationship against a backdrop of a post-apocalyptic Manhattan saturated with anti-Arab paranoia. It’s almost impossible to overstate the wit, fluidity and complexity with which writer Jason Grote and director Seth Bockley send the commanding, hyper-articulate cast through a labyrinth of character quick-changes, transitions from slapstick comedy to sincere political messages, and appearances from Osama bin Laden performing “Thriller” to Flaubert describing Egyptian courtesans. It’s also an incredibly hip production, with deconstructive metatheater, a strong Hitchcock influence, and striking stage pictures (including a Beckett-esque genie in a shopping cart and the most creative use of a strobe light I’ve seen in theater). But—and this is a big but—it’s hard to find any emotional or even real intellectual payoff from the show’s hard work. It’s often unclear how seriously the production takes itself—occasionally the stylized comedy borders on farce, and actions move far too quickly through moments that could have strong emotional resonance. Ultimately, the connections of various mythos feel like cerebral showmanship, without creating any messages that are truly original, thought-provoking or moving, and when an actor describes “Arabian Nights” as possibly being a “joke mistaken for history,” it’s hard not to see this same trap in “1001.” Finally, for a play as obsessed with cultural stereotypes as this one, there are some uncomfortable racialized signals, from a strong anti-Israeli message to the casting of the one dark-skinned actor to play the most common perpetrator of violence. (Monica Westin)
Collaboraction at Chopin Theatre, 1543 West Division, (312)226-9633. Through October 9.