nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
February 9, 2006
A show such as New York Theatre Workshop’s current offering, The Seven, is difficult to review. I want to simply write: “Go see it. Really.” But though I myself will go see anything I might suggest, you, gentle browser, are not me and therefore may require a bit more convincing. Here goes:
The Seven is Will Power’s adaptation of Aeschylus’ feel-good miss of 467 B.C., Seven Against Thebes. Perhaps not the most familiar-sounding of all extant Greek drama, S.A.T. starts with perhaps the most well-known tragic figure, Oedipus—killed his father, married his mother, had two sons with her before she hung herself, then plucked out his eyes, a gesture indicating that he understood the gravity of his situation. Charges of incest and murder not only forced Oedipus to abdicate his throne, but deeply embarrassed his two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, who kept him locked up. Their father’s response to this, not unsurprisingly was a curse: that they would never quite agree on who was to take his place as ruler of Thebes. The mutually-admiring pair, however, quickly agreed that they would take turns ruling every other year, so Oedipus further refined his curse: that neither would rule in a way that was suitable to the other, and that they would shortly each die at the other’s hand.
Power begins with the curse and sees the heretofore ridiculously harmonious duo through to their gorgeously-staged fate (choreographed by Bill T. Jones, but I’ll get to that—him). However, his particular take, literally “spun” on-stage by a DJ, is a hip-hop one: Oedipus is a cane-wielding Mack daddy, his sons Baby Macks (“Mack: 1. a pimp; or a man who is popular with the ladies”; there’s a glossary containing this and other terms more obscure to an enthusiastic but hopelessly Caucasian viewer such as myself). The ensemble is a more traditional Greek chorus (wearing clothing made by and for the hip-hop community, obvio), tripling as citizens of Thebes and members of the ominously-eponymous “Seven” (warriors assembled by Polynices to siege Thebes when Eteocles refuses to give up the throne).
Whether or not this conceit strikes you as astoundingly innovative is immaterial to me; I am telling you that the entire piece—from Power's text to Jo Bonney’s direction to Jones’s dances to each of the designers' contributions to the performances of the solid 11-person ensemble—is saturated with wit and is utterly winning. The play’s wisdom—about the folly of hubris, of fighting against nature / fate, of shirking civic responsibility for the illusion of personal security—is there for us in bright wicked relief.
Rap is not the first thing on my iPod—my limited experience with the style suggests to me that its practitioners tend to “write to the rhyme,” giving their lyrics a certain nonsensical quality that I find neither charming nor clever—but Power's libretto has it both ways: smart, sleek lyrics that at once reference the ancient and the contemporary (e.g. “Homer,” “Trojan,” “(The) Apollo”). Ya know, like if Oscar Wilde and 50 cent had a baby….
Now I am not one to read the program and ignore my theatre-going companion while waiting for the house lights to dim so my first thought when I saw the elegant, brooding, tarantula-like choreography was: “This show is going to be a hit and give this choreographer his/her big break!” However, the words “big break” to a modern dance icon such as Bill T. Jones probably mean little more than an extra two minutes to go fetch your leg-warmers. (Does anyone still wear a leg-warmer?) Needless to say, Jones’s dances equal the freshness of Power's script and make corporeal the grim, deteriorating state of the brothers and their subjects/citizens.
Bonney keeps both the physical actions and thematic intentions crystal clear, assembling an imaginative and capable bunch of designers (Darron L. West’s sound design is particularly excellent), and a fine cast; all of the actors deserve paragraphs of praise, but every time Edwin Lee Gibson hobbles on as Oedipus (and, in flashback, his father Laius), you might not realize that anyone else is onstage.
Is that enough information? Seriously, get over to New York Theatre Workshop now. Fo real. And don’t forget your bling!