Ten Thousand Things’ (TTT) Artistic Director Michelle Hensley has a way of spotting the timeless themes in a play and grounding her company in them. In this case, she served as producer, but her vision and focus was surely guiding this wonderful theater on its path with a new play, The Seven cleverly conceived by Will Power.
In this hip-hop version of Aeschylus’ tragedy, The Seven Against Thebes, two brothers believe they can share the crown in a novel arrangement. It doesn’t work and the question of why and who – or what – to blame sets up the kind of ethical conundrum that TTT and its audiences relish.
Some messages are clear, of course; ancient Greek tragedies carry powerful lessons about the dangers of excessive pride. Treachery, violence, love, selfishness – it’s all there. But Hensley puts it in simple terms: “How do you throw off the curse of a bad parent and find a way to stop fighting with yourself and your brothers and sisters?” Oh, what a question! Oh, what a story! Oh, what entertainment!
Amazingly, a cast of eight seems plenty big to stand up to a story this imposing, facing it down with all the swagger and sass of a rapper. The play works in part because its characters are boldly drawn in terms we “get.”
Leading the way is Bruce A. Young in a killer performance as Oedipus, the once glorified King of Thebes, now dethroned by his two sons. “You ain’t nothin’ but a punkass player,” he spits at his son. “… I’m Oedipus! … all the shit I did. I didn’t know …” and the story unfolds. He struts and he hollers in his shiny teal jacket with sequin lapels. He connives and disappears, only to reappear with a darker plan. There’s plenty of laughs here, too, heightened by an odd mix of pathos and a sense of danger.
H. Adam Harris as Eteocles is his father’s son, with his booming voice and imposing size. He reminds us – and his brother, Polynices – frequently that he’s the oldest, which seems to come with an extra dose of egocentricity. Harris embraces everything about this deceptively complex character and just lays it all out there.
Kinaundrae Lee as Polynices provides a beautiful foil for all this pomposity. He takes up with a poet in the forest delivering a lovely song that reveals the person he would, at least, like to be.
Katie Bradley, Aimee K. Bryant, Brian Sostek, Ricardo Vazquez and Joetta Wright form a dynamic ensemble, stepping in and out of solos with presence and skill. Vazquez’ playing Tydeus’ re-enactment of getting beat up, with filmy red scarves flying, was memorable, but there were many by this talented cast.
The instrumentals backing up these wonderful performers were not as memorable. In fact, their a capella numbers were noticeably more cohesive and clean. I know, it’s hip hop, and beats are part of it. Still, I’m not sure how much these beats added in such an intimate setting. The ambient music was more effective as moody soundscape.
Sarah Rasmussen serves as guest director. Peter Vitale is music director, and Kahlil Queen and Aimee Bryant are co-choreographers.
I saw this at the Wilder Center in St. Paul with a largely high school-aged audience, it appeared, and they were definitely into it. There are four weekends of public performances at Open Book in Minneapolis, February 15–March 10, 2013. Even if hip-hop is outside your cultural sphere (and its language makes you squirm) you might see it all differently after this play. Everybody else? Just go. No question. This is great theater.