Arabian Night

First impressions of Arabian Night suggest it will have a linear story: Two women, Franziska and Fatima, share an apartment. The ethereal, waiflike Franziska falls asleep on the couch each night, wrapped in dreams. Fatima, the earthy one, finds this convenient as she awaits the regular visits of her lover. At the same time, Hans, the super, attempts to solve the building's water problems, wandering from apartment to apartment, and a peeping Tom watches a naked Franziska through a window.

From there on, however, reality disappears into a whirl of misadventures -- and dreams that are erotic and nightmarish. As the images grow wilder, they are evocative of a German Expressionist painting. Not surprising, since the playwright is Roland Schimmelpfennig, a writer popular in today's Germany. Even his name has a feeling of whimsical invention.

People are trapped in elevators, on distant deserts, in brandy bottles. Steamy sexual scenes ensue as men give in to women's ravenous sexual demands. The sleeping Franziska is kissed by man after man, but the kiss of a prince does not awaken the sleeping beauty. Fatima turns into a would-be killer armed with a kitchen knife. Images coalesce and shatter, as they do in dreams. Is it all Franziska's dream?

Arabian Night challenges the mind but never engages the emotions; it is, in fact, not a play at all. Yet the production is imaginatively staged by Trip Cullman. Louisa Thompson's set and Lenore Doxsee's lighting add greatly to the eerie ambience. And Cullman certainly makes considerable demands on his five competent actors -- Roxanna Hope, Piter Marek, Brandon Miller, Stelio Savante, and Jicky Schnee. It is not easy to extricate oneself from a brandy bottle, escape a stalled elevator, or fend off a killer.

Presented by the Play Company

at the East 13th Street Theatre, 136 E. 13th St., NYC.

June 12-July 1. Mon.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.

(212) 279-4200 or www.ticketcentral.com.

Casting by Judy Henderson, CSA.