THEATER REVIEW by Alec Clayton for OLY ARTS
“3 Impossible Questions” at Olympia Family Theater is a world premiere play based on beloved Islamic folk tales and stories that have been passed down generation to generation about the wise Mullah (teacher or master) Nasreddin.
Olympia writer, actor and director Christian Carvajal* says he was inspired to write the play after the current administration declared a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. Wanting to learn more about Islamic culture, he visited the Islamic Center of Olympia and later researched Muslim folklore and the Nasreddin stories.
In “3 Impossible Questions,” directed by Ted Ryle, three 13th century wise men travel to Nasreddin’s Turkish home to challenge him with three questions they are sure he can never answer: where is the exact center of the earth, how many stars in the sky, and how many hairs are there in Altanin’s (Keith Eisner’s) beard. Nasreddin (Jon Lee), who is not only the wisest man in the world but also one of the funniest and most loveable, astonishes the wise men and delights the townspeople by answering the questions in such a way that nobody can dispute his answer.
But there is much more to the story than that. While waiting for the Mullah to figure out his answers, the townspeople entertain one another with popular tales from folklore. The tales are parables. They represent wisdom packed in humor much as we see in Western culture in tales such as Aesop’s fables, with a touch of Alice in Wonderland and a sprinkling of Carvajalian word play and pop-culture references.
For such an intimate space, the diverse cast is huge, with 15 actors playing more than 50 characters, including a few animals — Zachary Clark as a rat and Sara Thiessen as a crocodile and as a cow who does funny blowfish things with her mouth and cheeks. The three wise men are played by Eisner, Jack House and Chuck Meares. Most of the other actors play multiple roles.
Ryan Martin Holmberg is the cynical, comical and most outspoken loudmouth of the townspeople in his many incarnations as a shopkeeper, an astrologer, a prince and others. He even enlivens a finger puppet, reminding me of his hilarious role as the fish in OFT’s production last year of “Fishnapped.” Veteran actor Tom Sanders plays one of his funniest parts ever as the mayor and as other townspeople. He does a dying scene that is . . . well, to die for.
A transplant from Portland and Seattle, Lee is a relative newcomer to Olympia. He plays Nasreddin with such natural charm and wit that if I were to bump into him on the street, I would expect him to be Nasreddin in every aspect of personality.
Congratulations to playwright Carvajal for such an entertaining tale and to Ryle and company for expanding Olympia’s understanding of Islamic culture in such a delightful way. I’d love to see this play performed in other communities.
“3 Impossible Questions” is a play for all ages, but may appeal more to teens and grownups.
* Christian Carvajal is editor emeritus of OLY ARTS.
(This review appears courtesy The News Tribune.)
WHAT: 3 Impossible Questions
WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 18
WHERE: Olympia Family Theatre, 612 4th Ave E, Olympia
HOW MUCH: $19 adults, $16 military, $13 youth
LEARN MORE: (360) 570-1638 | Olympia Family Theater