Sunday, July 16, 2006

Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp

Salutations Fellow Scholars,

It has just come to my attention that Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, the latest theatre production courtesy of the forces behind MTC, has opened at The Regent Theatre in Arlington, Massachusetts. Showtimes are June 3, 10, 17, and 24 at 10:30 in the morning. I would highly encourage any aspiring scholar to go see it, as it is not only a brilliantly original production, but also the topic of my current assignment as Field Dramaturg for the Makeshift Theatre Company.

I am currently on assignment, fellow scholars, in the city of Lianyungang, a costal port of rising significance in the Jiangsu Province of China. I am writing this installment of "Professor Happ's Happenings" in a small internet café on Ganjiang Road, just across the street from the local antique bookstore. Why am I here? It's a long and upsetting story. But as difficult as it has been, things are going unusually well now that Nero has his fingers stuck in one of those Chinese novelty toys.

The assignment started off well, at any rate. I was charged by MTC to research the origin and history of the story of Aladdin to an extent not yet fathomed by any other dramaturg. Of course, I immediately recognized Aladdin as one of the stories from the Arabic collection Alf Layla wa-Layla (literally translated, A Thousand Nights and One Night), which is itself the story of a Sassanid Queen named Shahrázád; clearly, we had to begin there. Nero and I packed lightly, taking great care to bring only the essentials of equipment and an abundance of intellect, and together we headed off to Baghdad, Iraq.

Which is where our troubles began.

Of course, there was much debate between myself and the Iraqi customs official over the definition of "field dramaturgy," but that was only a minor impediment when compared to the troubles that soon followed. Nero and I were looking for the ruins of Ctesiphon, the captial city of the former Sassanid Empire, some twenty miles southeast of Baghdad along the Tigris River, but we had no way of getting there. Nero suggested, as he is so apt to do, that we "just start hoofin' it," which I believe was an attempt to recommend walking obscured by some inferior dialect. Needless to say, it was a terrible idea, as he was not only ignoring the influence the tremendous desert heat would exert over our bodies, but he was also overestimating his ability to carry my substantial equipment over such a great distance, and I reminded him of this for seven entire miles!

By that time, we were dehydrated and on the verge of death. But does a scholar ever give in? Does a field dramaturgist ever admit defeat? Does Professor Happ ever take "no" for an answer? Well, sometimes, but only when it's the right answer. At any rate, using a length of rope and several pieces of driftwood, I managed to fashion a raft and Nero and I floated the remaining distance down the Tigris.

At least, we would have, had Nero not dropped my supplies into the river, thereby losing my compass. We eventually ended up in the city of Al Kut, over eighty miles from our intended destination, where I was able to enlist the help of some of the locals. Four days after we had arrived in Iraq,Nero and I were finally at Ctesiphon.

Where we realized, of course, that the story of Aladdin is set in China! I bet Nero had never felt so foolish in his life! We packed up, headed back to Al Kut, found a ride back to Baghdad, and caught a flight to Beijing.

Once there, we stopped by the Tsinghua University Library (where I have some colleagues, of course) and picked up some recent geological surveys. As the cave played a major role in the story of Aladdin, I reasoned that this story would have most likely originated in the area of China most densely punctuated with caves, which turned out to be Jiangsu Province. On our way to Nanjing, the regional capital of Jiangsu, Nero and I stopped by an antique bookstore in Lianyungang. We scoured the shelves for some version, any version at all, of Aladdin, but we found none. Then, much to my dismay, Nero offered a suggestion.

"Maybe," he said, "since the story was told by people in the Middle East about made-up people in China, well . . . maybe the people around here really don't know any more about Aladdin than we do."

I told him that was blatantly obvious, and if he had only realized it three days earlier, we would still be in Iraq. I gawk at his incompetence.

At any rate, we crossed the street to the little café so I could place some calls to MTC. As it turns out, Aladdin actually opened over a week ago, Nero tells me he's in the cast (although I cannot imagine why anyone would think him qualified enough to perform anything), MTC wants us to scrap the assignment and return to the US at once, Nero and I have managed to run up a tab of four-hundred yuan at this little café, and, on top of all that, as I have just discovered, Nero and I are flat broke.

But, on the other hand, the door really isn't that far away. Hmm.

As always, scholars, I charge you to act nobly and honorably wherever your expeditions may take you. Desperation may gnaw at your moral fiber, but it is your duty to represent the enlightened community in the best of all possible lights and to always pay your meal tabs in full and tip your waitresses at least fifteen percent.

Brilliantly Sincere,

Professor Happ
Director of Field Dramaturgy
Makeshift Theatre Co.

P.S. - If I haven't posted another update by this time next week, call the police.

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