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Lady-killers: Women of Arabia take center stage in Sunset Park show

Arabian fights: Three of the actors from “Pay No Attention to the Girl,” an adaptation of “One Thousand and One Nights” rehearse for the show’s opening at the Doxsee Theater in Sunset Park on April 2.
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Here, the battle of the sexes is a fight to the death!

A Sunset Park theater company will launch its multi-year adaptation of the Arabian classic “One Thousand and One Nights” with a tale focusing on sex, jealousy, and betrayal. The director of “Pay No Attention to the Girl,” opening on April 2 at the company’s new theater space, culled the show from portions of the centuries-old text that focus on the dynamics of gender and power. The tome lends itself to this portrayal because its protagonist is fighting for her life, he said.

“We’ve chosen a set of stories that are essentially about competing narratives about the sexes,” said David Herskovits, who founded Target Margin Theater in 1991. “The question of who gets to tell the story, who’s listening to the story, who has the power, how that gets told — that is deeply woven into the entire ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ partly because of the frame story — it’s a story about a woman who is talking to save her life every single night.”

In that frame story, a bitter sultan marries a different woman every night, and murders her each morning so that none of his brides will ever have a chance to cheat on him. But one clever woman, Scheherazade, tells the sultan a new story each evening, ending each on a cliff-hanger that keeps him coming back for more. One set of her stories, titled “The Craft and Malice of Women,” about a prince and a concubine who dispute the details of their sexual liaison, formed the basis of the Target Margin show, with the cast developing the dialogue throughout the rehearsal process, Herskovits said.

The show was chosen before the 2016 election and before the #MeToo moment of reckoning for sexual harassers, but those events have imbued the show with even greater significance and urgency, Herskovits said.

“It all was set in motion before #MeToo, before Donald Trump became president, and before Islamophobia kind of went even further,” he said. “We were already rolling down the hill, and things went further and faster.”

This is the first production in the company’s new home, a former industrial garage called the Doxsee Theater. After years of shuffling between performance venues in Williamsburg, Fort Greene, and the distant isle of Manhattan, Herskovits hopes that its new space, in the diverse nabe of Sunset Park, will help the company to settle down and to reach a wider audience.

“The space itself is raw,” he said. “It’ll give us the opportunity to amplify the work that we make, to increase its engagement with and impact on the community around us by giving us a sort of anchor venue, a sort of identity.”

The show is the first in a series examining “One Thousand and One Nights.” The company plans to stage four different interpretations of “Sinbad the Sailor” in May, and hopes to dive into some of the book’s other stories in another production next year, said Herskovits.

“Pay No Attention to the Girl” at the Doxsee Theater (232 52nd St. between Second and Third avenues in Sunset Park, www.targetmargin.org). April 2, 4–7, 11–14, 18–21 at 7:30 pm. $25.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.
Updated 5:47 pm, July 9, 2018
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