Gang of Seven
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
December 5, 2008
Language is the eighth character in Jim Neu's new comedy, Gang of Seven. Seemingly banal comments end with unexpected meaning, non-sequitors assume threads of continuity, and meaningless banter delivers insight into an entire nation. Those who can keep up with Neu's verbal gymnastics will be rewarded with an evening of smart, if not altogether wacky, theater.
The play, now getting laughs at La MaMa E.T.C., shows the characters of the title, sitting primly in the chairs they sat in when they came together for a focus group on soap. The strength of this group identity transforms them and they decide to sacrifice their individuality for a grass roots movement of...well, enthusiastic responders. Though they don't actually do anything and they have little, if anything, in common, they are earnestly ready to actually believe in something even if it is mall-like commercialism. They rally behind a business concept called The Reality Bowl whose leader states, "Everything I've ever done has been right on the cutting edge of legitimate." Welcome to Amermica, an imaginary country whose people are as shallow as a puddle at the end of a sunny day and where individuality is feared. Here, façade is everything.
Neu's dialog moves fast, and the platitudes should go down easily with a slow yawn; however, the clichés don't end as expected and the brain circles back to re-examine phrases for meaning, but—oops—missed the next two. Now, where are we? Forget all of that. Just listen to the loopy language, its circumlocutions of word play, ironic juxtapositions of predictable phrases and surprise endings, stream-of-consciousness interplay between group members, and marketing doublespeak, and only then will you land where the actors land in time for a well-earned laugh.
The cast works well as an ensemble. They perform with vocal agility and with breakneck speed under the smooth direction of Keith McDermott. A marvelously simple set, co-designed by David Fritz and John Allaire, transforms a conference room with carpeting running up the wall into a tinseled stage ready for a musical—all by merely rotating the backdrop. Becca Prescott's lighting is, at times, elegant. Costumes are designed by Meg Zeder, and music is composed by Harry Mann.