Opening sesame: New play changes hero of ‘Ali Baba’ story

Be my Baba tonight: A new adaptation of “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves,” opening at the Target Margin Theater space on April 1, puts the focus on Baba’s female slave, Marjana, who actually saves the day.
Kelly Stuart

She’s being honored among thieves!

A new play in Sunset Park will put a feminist lens on a familiar tale from the Middle East. “Marjana and the Forty Thieves,” opening on April 1 at the Doxsee theater, tells the classic tale of Ali Baba and the titular bandits, but puts the focus on Marjana, the story’s overlooked protagonist, according to the play’s director.

“Marjana is the slave woman who solves every problem, and saves the day again and again. The focus on her really does come from the story. She drives the action,” said David Herskovits, founder of the Target Margin Theater.

The story follows Ali Baba as he stumbles upon, and then steals, an extravagant treasure assembled by 40 bloodthirsty bandits. When they come for revenge, Marjana, a slave in Ali Baba’s household, foils their plot with tenacity and quick thinking.

Target Margin’s adaptation highlights the role-reversal inherent in the tale of a powerless woman taking charge of the situation, according to Herskovits.

“We try to take material and make it more true to itself, a more complete representation of what the story already is,” he said.

During the intimate 75-minute performance, a five-member cast will act out the story, with one actor standing in for all 40 thieves. The audience will relax on couches and sofa cushions while sipping on tea, which the director hopes will give the night an inviting, joyous feeling.

“We want people to feel comfortable. We want it to feel intimate. It’s a dense text, but we want it to be adventurous and artistically fun,” he said.

“Marjana” is the latest installment of Target Margin Theater’s multi-year exploration of “The One Thousand and One Nights,” which started with last year’s production “Pay No Attention to the Girl.”

Herskovits said he was drawn to the source material for its excess of drama and vast cultural influences.

“The text is so rich in the diversity of its stories. And ‘One and One Thousand Nights’ emerges from many different cultures and areas as well.” said Herskovits.

“Marjana and the Forty Thieves” at the Doxsee [232 52nd St. between Second and Third avenues in Sunset Park, (718) 398–3095 www.targetmargin.org]. March 28–April 20; Thu–Sat at 8 pm; Sun at 3 pm. Official opening April 1 at 8 pm. $25–$35.

More from Around New York