1002 NIGHTS by Simon Heath, directed by Tanja Jacobs, with Tara Rosling. Presented by the Shed Co. at the Cameron House (408 Queen West). Opens tonight (Thursday, November 14) and runs to December 1, Tuesday-Saturday 7:30 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $16-$18, Sunday pwyc, stu/srs discount. 416-703-1725. Rating: NNNNN
simon heath's new play, 1002 Nights, is part real-life theatre, part fantasy.Set in a strip club, its sole character is Stella, an exotic dancer who decides she wants to stop stripping and stooping for the coins tossed at her. Using the Scheherezade tale as frame, Heath explores the power of storytelling and Stella's attempt to regain control of her life.
"It's sensitive, loaded subject matter," admits Heath.
The central story Stella tells is about a stripper and a gay man who's come to the club with his straight friends. It's up to the listener to decide how much of this really happened and how much is made up by the teller.
"A stripper like Stella is in a double-edged situation," continues Heath. "The viewer is allowed to look at but not touch her, so she has the upper hand. But the flip side is that she's isolated on the stage, dependent on the viewer for recognition. She's not turned on -- the viewer is."
Comparing herself to Scheherezade, who saved her own life and other women's by keeping the sultan fascinated with her tales, Stella sees herself as a mythic figure with a heroic task.
"But she has to ignore a truth, that she's been stripping for men. And like another figure who's central to my play, Blanche Dubois (Stella alludes to her often), she creates her own reality."
Blanche, the troubled central figure in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire, has a sister named Stella. Williams's Stella is down-to-earth, while Blanche is a dreamer whose tragedy stems in part from her gay lover's death.
"I didn't realize until recently that the play focuses on sisters -- Scheherezade has one, too -- and that each pair is like two sides of a coin, one based on grinding practicality and the other on the power of imagination.
"My Stella realizes at this crucible moment in her life that the only way to be whole is to unify the two sides," says the soft-spoken but passionate Heath. "There's something beautiful in her work, though not everyone sees it. We all have that beauty, in fact.
"I believe in Truth and Beauty, with capital letters. That's what's motivates most of us, what draws some people to performing."
The playwright sits for a second, musing.
"Why do actors perform? A need for attention? Something about catharsis for themselves and the audience? I think it makes both partners, the viewer and the artist, better people.
"If not, the actor might as well go and do something else," he laughs. "The pay is too shitty."
Heath can thank actor and playwright Linda Griffiths for kick-starting his Toronto career. He had his local debut five years ago in a shed in Griffiths's backyard.
Called, appropriately, Shed, the site-specific piece also gave its name to Heath's company.
He directed her award-winning piece about Gwendolyn MacEwen, Alien Creature, and in January helms her new script, Chronic, at Factory Theatre. firstname.lastname@example.org