C / ALAN: What? No. Jews, we’re loud, but we don’t, we’re not violent [sic]. We don’t engage in violence.

A / DAHNA: Oh no?

—Jason Grote, 1001 (2007)

Lauren Eicher as Dahna, Nael Nacer as Alan. (Liza Voll / Company One)

Against hindsight’s superior judgment, in the summer of 2011 I enrolled in a five-week acting class at Emerson College in Boston. It lasted from 9:00 in the morning to 8:30 at night, and then for several hours more each Saturday. It was exhausting, humiliating, and revealed permanently that my dramatic talents lay elsewhere. That such a grueling, ultimately fruitless self-incurred adventure should have occurred at 17, and not later, is a blessing for which I am grateful.

The night of July 27, our class was slated to see a play at the Plaza Theatre on Tremont Street in the South End. It was called 1001 by Jason Grote, a playwright whose work, in retrospect, I am surprised that my lunatic high school drama teacher never inflicted upon me along with Jean Genet and myriad other Marxist luminaries unknown to people with normal educations.

1001 is a remarkable play that is hilarious, seductive, and alarmingly relevant,” Company One’s artistic director Shawn LaCount wrote in the program. “At times dizzying in its approach, Grote has a style of storytelling that we think you’ll find surprising and enticing. You’ll want to buckle up for this magic carpet ride.” Fair enough.

Little did 17-year-old me know, however, that standard acting curriculum in first-rate art colleges included lewd, anti-Semitic screeds against the country in which they stood, received with all the solemnity of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged). This was normal fair, apparently, as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approached—and the most unorthodox people in society, as subsequent events would illustrate, brooked no unorthodox observations. The previous decade was apparent proof that the West needed a restorative herbal bath of jihad to warm its icy heart, and the inhabitants of the land between the Nile and Fertile Crescent had far too much of it for there to be peace on earth. K–12 education wasn’t indoctrinating children against civilization quickly enough, so it needed some sophisticated collegiate cavalry. “Woke” had awoken long before everybody knew that men were really barren women, and, as I learned, anybody under 30 daring to opine otherwise was not to be trusted.

I was to endure a ride indeed that evening, but with no means of buckling up, and even less magic than allowed in the Dursley household. And in the space of about 100 minutes, I would be privy to more reasons than the title’s zeroes represented why Jews should never go to the theater.

Original program for the Boston Plaza Theatre and Company One’s production of Jason Grote’s 1001, which ran from July 15 through August 13, 2011.

A tale of noble Arabs, a Jewish putz + fat crusaders

The convoluted, deliberately confusing play concerns two main intersecting stories: the first of The Thousand and One Nights, in which clever Sheherazad cheats death by enchanting the Persian king Shahriyar with 1,001 stories, the second of the incompatible lovers Alan, a Jewish hipster, and Dahna, a Palestinian-born Kuwaiti, set in New York City in 2001. Six actors play all of the many parts, but actors “A” and “C”—as the (typo-ridden) script calls them—exclusively play both Sheherazad-Dahna and Shahriyar-Alan respectively.

The first scene opens with an ensemble comprised of actors “B,” “D,” “E,” and “F” describing Sheherazad, dressed as a modern-day Arab businesswoman, walking through Times Square, mocked deliberately as the “center of the world.” “This is it? The land of milk and honey?” Sheherazad thinks through the ensemble’s narration, while she tip-toes “through the throngs of fat crusaders.” The narration continues, driving any meandering points home:

Here [in New York City] all is ifrits [demons] and djinns, flitting to and fro, illuminating an infinity of idols.

She has been told of them, these djinns and ifrits, conjured by the infidels.

This is why she bears the story that weighs so heavily on her back and her hips. It moves inside her. Feel it? Feel it move. It is the story of a final jihad against the infidel (insh’Allah)[.]

Or it is the story of a monstrous carriage crashing into one of these great fortresses…[?]

The scene eventually shifts to the story of Sheherazad and Shahriyar. King Shahriyar discovers that his unnamed queen has committed adultery “with a filthy blackamoor slave… for debauched women prefer the Moors on account of the size of their parts,” a “One-Eyed Arab” informs the audience. While Shahriyar sits seething in front of a television on which video of his wife’s exploits is imagined to play, he, now believing that all women shall similarly betray him, resolves to procure, marry, and ravage a new virgin every night only to behead her in the morning. When the thousand-and-first such bride (“a young girl of 13 or 14,” the script notes, “who trembles, crying”) has been so surgically altered, Wazir, the king’s chief minister, tells him that the kingdom is now nearly denuded of virgins to sacrifice to his royal neurosis. Though the king may, perhaps, have achieved his goal of forever eradicating adultery from his realm, the resentful commoners—no doubt wishing to dispose of their daughters less wastefully—slide toward revolt. Sheherazad, Wazir’s daughter, then tells her father that she has a plan to save the king, the kingdom, and its virgins, from the wrath their lord’s madness will surely heap upon them. She herself shall marry the king and rescue him from himself.

Face-to-face with the gynophobic monarch, a fearless Sheherazad playfully licks the dried blood off her fiancé’s fingers and admires the manly “sinew in your arms” on account of “lifting a heavy sword” with such regularity. A dazed Shahriyar responds that “You totally remind me of my girlfriend.” Upon their marriage, Sheherazad conducts him to bed, and, with her sister Dunyazad’s help, convinces the king to hear a story before she receives the same fate as the fifty-score-and-one who have gone before her. Sheherazad proceeds to tell him a gawdy story of an Arab prince who lusted for his lisping sister, then, before the end is reached, she insists that she is exhausted, “And we have business to attend to this night, do we not?” Haltingly and still confused, he begs to hear the end of the story; she assents, but informs the king that this story “then may only be understood if one first hears another story.”

I was to endure a ride indeed that evening, but with no means of buckling up, and even less magic than allowed in the Dursley household. And in the space of about 100 minutes, I would be privy to more reasons than the title’s zeroes represented why Jews should never go to the theater.

Nael Nacer as Shahriyar, Lauren Eicher as Sheherazad. (Liza Voll / Company One)

Alan the Jewish hipster (his regal robes shed for a rumpled plaid shirt and jeans) then appears. He wanders the labyrinth of his own unconscious, sporting a conspicuously bandaged head wound. He is inarticulate, shabby, and makes little sense. He then stumbles upon the same “One-Eyed Arab” who introduced the character of Shahriyar. After the man shows Alan an incomprehensible TV program featuring Usamah bin Laden reciting lyrics from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Alan is transported to his apartment with his Palestinian girlfriend Dahna.

Another NC-17-rated story from Sheherazad, this time smeared with unsubtle anti-colonial admonitions, transitions into Dahna and Alan’s awkward meeting story. In a lecture hall at Columbia, Dahna, a graduate student, appears at a microphone during the Q&A session after a panel discussing academic boycotts of Israel. Alan Dershowitz—“a learned and powerful Jew, advisor to the Christian kings of America,” a character called the “Horrible Monster” narrates—begins babbling empty, patronizing evasions over a brave, undaunted Dahna. She attempts to ask a polite question about why he does not support “a campaign for justice” modeled after the “successful campaign against Apartheid in South Africa.” Dershowitz will not let her speak, wheedles that she is an “extremist,” and talks over her until the moderator says that “we’ll have to move on to the next question.” After Dahna storms out, Alan, also a graduate student, follows her and tells her how much he admired her courage: “So that was uh great in there,” the slow-witted admirer blithers. “In that uh in the lecture you uh/ really held your own [sic].” He tries to make clear that “we [Jews] weren’t all like that. You know.” Their tedious dialogue is interrupted by the appearance of a livid Orthodox student, his tzitzit waving. He shouts at Dahna and accuses her—without reason, of course—of supporting “murderers and cancer,” since boycotting Israel will deprive sick people of life-saving Israeli medical technology. Alan shouts back at the crazed Chasid, who, now exposed in public as a coward who harasses women, retreats, defeated. Alan apologizes to Dahna on the man’s behalf; “I’m used to it,” she says stoically, adding that “It sounded like you were going to get violent.” Alan is rattled: “What? No. Jews, we’re loud, but we don’t, we’re not violent [sic]. We don’t engage in violence.” “Oh no?” the less than convinced yet ironically charmed Palestinian responds.

After calming down, Alan and Dahna embark on a flirtation, one which takes them from the clumsy romance of an illegal rave to the play’s defining location: Gaza.

Gunfire rocks and deafens the stage as Dahna ducks for cover holding a baby. The Israelis bombard Rafah while Dahna and Alan endeavor to aid the Strip’s besieged, destitute Muslims. Alan insisted that he and Dahna go there, seemingly out of moral obligation to prove that “We’re not all” like his namesake Dershowitz. Bullets careen left and right as Dahna narrates the hellish scene:

This is a bad night. We’re walking home after curfew with Mostafa, our translator, who has just taken his little girl to the Doctors Without Borders doctor. Something bad must have gone down today because soldiers start firing on us, that or they’re just bored maybe, or scared, but we hear, pok [sic]! Pok! Pok! Little chunks fly out of stone walls over our heads, small clouds of dust appear at our feet.

Dahna and Mostafa then see Alan the Jew standing frozen in front of the unseen Jewish soldiers. Ignoring their screams for him to run, Alan stands there, refusing to move, as the bullets fly over his head, slowly and purposely descending in height toward his skull. Finally, Mostafa runs and tackles him; he (the “One-Eyed Arab”) is shot in the eye. Though he lives, Alan is racked with guilt:

C / ALAN: I couldn’t move.

A / DAHNA: You were scared. It happens.

C / ALAN: It wasn’t that. I wanted to draw his fire. I felt like he knew, the soldier, somehow, that you and Mostafa were Arabs and I was a Jew, that if I stood there he wouldn’t kill me and you guys would. Get to safety [sic]. But then it was a game of chicken, like I was calling his bluff. I had this whole fantasy where he kills me, it makes the news, a Jew kills another Jew, they argue about it in the Knesset [sic].

Mostafa might die because of me.

Lauren Eicher as Dahna, Ben Gracia as Mostafa, Nael Nacer as Alan. (Liza Voll / Company One)

Alan and Dahna move in together after they come home. But they are not happy. Alan is boring, immature, and immersed in not working on his dissertation, supposedly “about postcolonialism and internet porn.” Dahna’s sister Lubna has heard that she is living in sin with a Jew—however “exciting”—and she desires better for her. Lubna sets her up via the wonder of instant messaging with Asser, a rich Palestinian currency trader living in England. The two flirt half-heartedly; Dahna is tempted by his appearance and wealth in contrast to Alan’s nerdy, nose-picking idealism, but admits to herself that Alan was unlike other Jews enough to be “ready to die for me” in Gaza. She decides, however, to tell an oblivious Alan that she is interested in somebody else, and insinuates that she can’t stay with him anymore. When Alan finally figures out that she wants to leave him, he begs her to stay. She points out that he, of the two, is the one far more obsessed with post-colonial studies and anti-Israel politics; “Sometimes I wonder if I’m just some kind of Orientalist project for you,” she sighs. “I can’t be who you want me to be.”

At that moment, the first plane roars into the North Tower. A deafening blast rocks the entire world. The Lower Manhattan apartment nearly disintegrates. The scene melts away to medieval Persia, with Dahna and Alan transformed back into Sheherazad and Shahriyar. The crusaders are coming. They are savages who “know little of civilization, for theirs stopped evolving centuries ago and they remain as in ancient times,” Wazir warns his lord. Shahriyar’s realm is too weak to fight the onrushing murderers, but he refuses to flee, as he must hear just one more story before the barbarians “cut us all and fornicate with our bleeding wounds.” Sheherazad tells of “Alaeddin and His Magic Lamp.” The famous jin finds a dirty, lovesick Alan desperately looking for Dahna as the sirens blare and the city crumbles into wasteland. Alan says that his only wish is to find Dahna; the jin says that he can and will see her again, but it will come at a terrible price. Alan agrees, and then rushes to a bus stop where Dahna is getting off the M106 from the Bronx, wearing a blue silk scarf as a mask (or a veil). She is civil but not pleased to see him. The Orthodox student from Columbia then bursts from the shadows. As before, he starts shouting at Dahna, but now he tears the scarf off her face. He shrieks that she—“Arab scum”—is a “terrorist c—t.” He pulls out a brick to kill Dahna. Alan tries to stop him. The man smashes Alan in the head, who falls down bleeding and senseless. He then raises the brick against Dahna, the witness. She opens her duffle bag and pulls out Shahriyar’s sword, hacking off the bloodthirsty Jew’s arm. He scuttles away, groaning, into the smoke of 9/11. The final scene sees Dahna reading to Alan from The Thousand and One Nights, he lying comatose in a hospital bed with his head wrapped in bandages. She leaves the room and then returns as Sheherazad, Alan emerging from the bed as Shahriyar. They dance together as an eternal couple—united forever as schmuck and heroine.

Why do Jews find magic carpet rides so offensive?

The next morning, I arrived at the Paramount Center hoping—perhaps assuming—that the teachers and my fellow students would share my shock and disgust. We sat, as always, in a close circle on the filthy gray dance mats to say what we each thought of the play. I have no specific memory of what anybody else said, but such a blank is indicative of their obedient, fascinated approval. Then my turn came.

I recall my heart sinking and doubling in temperature, somehow sensing what was coming. Yet, I had to tell the truth: with a sheepish smile on my face, trying to stay calm and keep my language temperate, I launched into how “offended” I had been (a word I know I used), that the play was anti-Israel propaganda (if anybody knew what that meant), and that it was filled with bizarre anti-Semitic fantasies and self-satisfied anti-American nonsense. Then I remember awkward, surprised silence. Nobody said anything for a few eternal seconds. Maybe one girl, who was also Jewish, perhaps agreed with me faintly, or did so with sufficient brevity or moderation that my memory never preserved her opinion. One of the teachers, who had served as part of the play’s production staff—an otherwise decent woman who, before and after, was always kind to me—smiled and said something diplomatic. Then we moved on to the next kid. Or maybe I was last.

I do not remember the rest of that specific day, but I will never forget my “friends”’ polite, belittling reaction. My “five-week family,” as one of the girls had christened the group, looked at me as if I had eaten of the insane root that takes the revolution prisoner. If one were to dislike a play, I was learning quickly, the only acceptable reasons were technical: bad actors, ineffective directing, unwise lighting choices, a script which failed to build tension. My reason—that the play presented delusional lies about Jews and Israel dressed up in arch, high-brow avant-garde—was not on the list. A greater faux pas was that I displayed a lack of zeal for what almost every accredited acting teacher will tell you is theater’s highest purpose: to disturb bourgeois sensibilities—distaste for PLO misinformation apparently among them. If actors were going to make the world a better place someday, lippy Jews like me shouldn’t be so self-righteous. Israel, as everybody knows, is a tiny SS outpost only quadruple-chinned long-ago-decomposed Republican Klansmen support. “Artists” and people with brains and feelings—unlike quadruple-chinned long-ago-decomposed Republican Klansmen—value “Palestine over profits,” so to speak, so they understand that Dahna pulling an Obi-Wan Kenobi on the Wandering Jew is the only way to end a rollicking good magic carpet ride.

She opens her duffle bag and pulls out Shahriyar’s sword, hacking off the bloodthirsty Jew’s arm. He scuttles away, groaning, into the smoke of 9/11.

Said said so

Jason Grote, of course—who describes himself as “a white, secular Jew” of a “Marxian” persuasion—is, not surprisingly, as his Facebook shows, a supporter of Ilhan Omar, prone to wearing a terrorist kufiyah scarf, and promised once that “I will find a way to urinate on you” if anybody accuses Bernie Sanders of advancing anti-Semitism—which, the socialist Forward says, he has. Yet, he, the crass literary snob who holds the most chic ideas in the wind, according to academia, is a non-conformist. Only people mad enough to see a commercial for the Hamas-supporting International Solidarity Movement—whom Grote’s own activism indicates he supports—and bother to complain are the stiffs.

And a pompous justification for jihad against Israelis is the only way to describe 1001. Since the same actor plays both Shahriyar and Alan, it cannot be irrelevant to Alan’s character that Shahriyar is a mass serial (child) rapist and serial killer, whose motivation is based purely upon petty sexual humiliation. Shahriyar is not only among the most pathetic characters imaginable, he is the ultimate coward. Due to tawdry penile envy and terror of female rejection, the tiny, weak, spineless king can only sooth his ego by massacring the most innocent and defenseless of his subjects. Israel, to Grote, appears to be the same: an evil, deranged tyranny so despicable and cowardly that it can only feed its thirst for power and security with the blood of Arab children. Alan the wimpy Jew is a righteous character only because he explicitly rejects his Jewishness and allegiance to his people’s nation-state. Further, Alan’s “fantasy” that a Jew killing another Jew would “make the news”—meaning that a Jew killing an Arab supposedly would not—lends fake evidence to the immortal anti-Semitic hallucination that the media are pro-Israel. He thus finds courage only when confronting Jews who do not reject their Jewishness, namely the unhinged Orthodox student and the murderous Israeli soldiers—who, like Amon Göth in Schindler’s List, kill when “bored.” As Jew-hating Columbia professor Joseph Massad once described Israel’s greatest achievement, 1001 can be summed up as “the transformation of the Jew into the anti-Semite and the Palestinian into the Jew.”

An even greater insult to human decency concerns the fact that, as some writers have mused in recent years, there are slight parallels between The Thousand and One Nights and the Book of Esther. Both depict beautiful, fearless heroines who hatch cunning schemes to rid the Persian Empire of an all-consuming evil. Both women marry dim, vain, thuggish potentates who believe they can preserve their rule only through mass slaughter. Both women successfully trick their degenerate emperors into giving might a rest and right a chance. The twisted irony of 1001, though, is that it seems to invert the holy story of Purim back on itself: Sheherazad as Esther (combined with Dahna the Arab) seduces the king (in place of wicked Israel) in order to free Muslims from the yoke of Jewish genocide. Considering that a comfortable majority of Muslims in both the U.S. and “Palestine” think that genocide against Jews is the most effective solution to Middle Eastern unrest, this fevered moral indulgence is as obscene as it sounds.

A pompous justification for jihad against Israelis is the only way to describe 1001.

The script’s extensive “Selected Bibliography” section also memorializes Grote’s debt to anti-Israel propagandist Edward Said, whose infamous 1978 tirade Orientalism appears second down. Said, a staple of Columbia University for 40 years (and certified fake Palestinian), was arguably the founder of “anti-colonial studies” and the great-grandfather of American academic anti-Zionism, whose professorial progeny includes shameless Columbian anti-Semites like Joseph Massad, Hamid Dabashi, Rashid Khalidi, and George Saliba. The stories Sheherazad tells throughout the play preach Said’s well-debunked but academically beloved thesis that Western people, by definition, cannot interact with Islamic civilization in a way that is not distorted by racism. In fact, one character points out that the text of The Thousand and One Nights is actually the work of a Frenchman who compiled a collection of famous Islamic stories, which was then translated back into Arabic, and then into English—meaning that the story itself is really an imposition of the imperialist Western imagination upon Arab culture. This slyly tempts the audience into wondering if Shahriyar’s brutality is nothing more than a projection of the perverse Western mind onto innocent, beautiful Islam. That Muslim violence is really all America’s fault, and Israel (a “creation” of Western imperialism) is far more Shahriyar than he is himself.

The play’s use of language, too—hokey and dull though it may be—suggests another layer of propaganda. Shahriyar and Alan, in contrast to Sheherazad and Dahna, are deliberately idiotic. The script gives actor “C” the word “uh” 29 times throughout the play. Alan especially can barely speak in complete sentences, whereas Dahna speaks clearly, eloquently, and intelligently. Because Alan is an echo of Shahriyar, he cannot truly understand words, so his Sheherazad, goddess and mistress of verbal inspiration, must educate him. Also (with two exceptions), only the Muslim characters consistently speak well or mellifluously. Only people from the culture of the Qur’an—poetry so sweet, Muhammad argues (absurdly, as it turns out), that its beauty must be proof of Islam—grasp the value and power of words. Where Western characters transplanted into Sheherazad’s stories like Gustave Flaubert are informed that they think “every word is [but] a word in a menu,” the Muslim characters’ lines are drenched in rich silks, crisp pastel colors, beguiling perfumes, fruits unknown to the primitive wilderness of Europe, and all the passion and pleasure of an Allah-fearing world without capitalism. The word “crusaders,” too, is equally telling, for it is an undisguised euphemism for Americans—the mocked victims of 9/11 included. And it is always used in contexts which imply that jihad directed against the United States is all the American people can expect after the events of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. What’s more, just after the first plane hits, “crusaders” invade Shahriyar’s kingdom. The historical inaccuracy intimates Grote’s intentions: the crusaders never came anywhere near Persia, therefore, their appearance is a crude caricature of the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Invoking the once-fashionable slogan of George Bush the “crusader,” Grote makes it very clear who he blames for an Islamic terrorist attack: “It’s Bush’s fault,” Alan fumes, “the f—ing idiot.” Grote even reverses basic, obvious reality to demean a wounded West yet further: the Americans “know little of civilization, for theirs stopped evolving centuries ago and they remain as in ancient times”—a common, objective observation many have made of Islamic civilization. No shock, then, that the introduction declares the play itself to be no less than the “story of a final jihad against the infidel (insh’Allah).”

Where Western characters transplanted into Sheherazad’s stories like Gustave Flaubert are informed that they think “every word is [but] a word in a menu,” the Muslim characters’ lines are drenched in rich silks, crisp pastel colors, beguiling perfumes, fruits unknown to the primitive wilderness of Europe, and all the passion and pleasure of an Allah-fearing world without capitalism.

For such a slime as this

Since 2011, every one of the lies contained within 1001 have become sacred writ within American academia, and “educated” youth culture. It is taken for granted that Israel’s entire existence has been the longest “holocaust” in human history, Islam is simultaneously both peaceful and should destroy America, and Jews can only be allowed to exist if they burn the Israeli flag. Even bin Laden’s abhorrent rationalization for massacring innocent Americans has gained wet-eyed worship all over TikTok.

Though it appears 1001 has mercifully fallen into obscurity since the production I saw that far-off Arabian night, in its younger years, it enjoyed great popularity, being produced across the country and receiving praise from The Boston Globe, L.A. Weekly, New York Times, Village Voice, and Washington Post. So, too, as my program further revealed, Company One could not have edified me so without generous support from the taxpayer-funded Massachusetts Cultural Council and Boston Center for the Arts. This can only mean that a sizeable chunk of the American theater-going public—including patrons affiliated with city and state governments—thought anti-Semitic, pro-jihad plays a welcome night’s entertainment years before the Iraq War ended (though there is no evidence that the ear-splitting 2018 musical adaption took off). Only natural, then, that violent pro-Hamas protests should have paralyzed both Columbia and Emerson during the jihad-speckled 2024 spring semester. With polling now consistently showing support for Israel nearly gone amongst American leftists, that a full house would have clapped for such a play as this so long ago is less of a surprise.

Theater itself, my teachers told me endlessly in various ways, was about speaking truth to cowards, but this trauma planted the first seed in my mind that they, like all Marxists, were liars. Were the instructors who ran my class—people I had to trust—too stupid to notice that they had taken me to see a play which seemed to blame America and Jews for 9/11? The magic of the theater, as we all know, makes anything possible; but, at least, nobody with that many degrees has an excuse—especially to smile and tell me that my eyes need to buckle up for the “intifadah.” But, unlike Alan, I understand words, and I don’t need to become a dhimmi to learn their power.