The stories were indeed good enough in themselves to convince adapter Zimmerman to forego any heavy-handed political messaging in favor of foregrounding a choice selection of wonderfully improbable but often pointed tales concerning everything from infidelity to revenge, wisdom, and infamy the last via a monumental breaking of wind.
The immediate political urgency and topicality take a back seat and no doubt for the better, theatrically speaking to the dramatic and comic power of the stories themselves, augmented by a robust ensemble performance, in which the actors also take care of the musical accompaniment, handling a small, efficient assortment of traditional instruments. In revisiting it after another and far more ghastly Gulf war, Zimmerman seems to have gone even further in letting the stories have their say a tall-tale showdown is even improvised afresh each night for one particular scene.
There's enough bitter irony after all in the repetition of Baghdad's standard title as "the city of peace and poets." Beyond this, Nights adds only a quiet but hauntingly suggestive coda at the end of two enjoyable acts, wherein the animated bodies of Zimmerman's hard-working cast suddenly fall silent and roll gently across the stage, like so many leaves blown by catastrophes natural or man-made, marking time and an evanescence to which there is no possible response.
THE ARABIAN NIGHTS
Through Jan. 4, 2009
Tues.Fri., 8 p.m.; Wed., 7 p.m.; Thurs. and Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.;
Sun., 2 and 7 p.m. (check site for exceptions); $13.50$71
Berkeley Repertory Thrust Stage
2025 Addison, Berk.