7(x1) Samurai: An epic tale … told by an idiot
written and performed by David Gaines
directed by David Gaines
produced by City Artistic Partnerships
reviewed by Leslie Weisman
There’s been an astonishing crop of one-man shows here lately, from Rick Miller’s MacHomer at Warehouse, to Josh Kornbluth’s Citizen Josh at Arena Stage, to Scott Renz’s Abe Lincoln at Cole Studio. Perhaps the daddy of them all was Mike Daisy’s If You See Something, Say Something, a Fringe favorite this past summer that later played to sold-out audiences at Woolly Mammoth. But Fringe-goers had another pick in mind when they voted for Best Solo Performance of Fringe Fest 2008: David Gaines’s riveting 7(x1) Samurai, a pantomimic twist on Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 cinematic masterpiece, The Seven Samurai.
Those who saw previous incarnations of Gaines’s show may be surprised at subtle changes in costume and makeup. Unlike the white-faced, red-nosed, kabuki-like visage of the publicity shot, Gaines, slight of build, his fair hair sumo-styled, greets us quietly, beginning what will be a whirlwind, chop-chop, slice-and-dice tour through the villages and villagers visited – and ravaged – by brigands, and defended by the seven samurai. All of which will be played by the matchless Mr. Gaines.
Every single sound and movement is choreographed and articulated by the remarkably versatile actor. Whether whisking out his white, black-and-red-detailed kabuki mask (even after watching him do it repeatedly, I still never got a bead on where he was hiding it), or vocalizing with exquisite precision and sibilance the whoosh of a sword, the cre-e-e-e-a-a-a-k of an opening door, or the violent backward thrust of a woman’s head, responding to a savage slap – both of which he portrays in lightning-swift alternation – Gaines brings to each of his many roles an uncanny verisimilitude that verges on the mystical.
That is not to say that the show is by any means without humor. In fact, that is one of its salient graces: at one point, one of our feared and powerful samurai is repeatedly confounded by the simplest of chores, grunting with childlike puzzlement at a door whose sign bids him enter but stubbornly fails to open. Another attempts to teach a timid elderly village woman to shoot an arrow, encouraging her gruffly as she repeatedly, doubtfully demurs, only to at last let fly with unexpected abandon. A brigand imperiously thrusts his sword into his holster, only to find that he missed. Ouch.
And then there are those places that are a mix, where you’re not sure whether to laugh, cry, scream, or retch: the thumb-sucking toddler (again Gaines), retreating in fear before the sword-wielding, mask-wearing samurai, who sweeps his blade cleanly across the shoulders of a half-dozen brigands. And here again Gaines gives us, with faultless precision, the chillingly unmistakable “plop, plop, plop” of each head as it drops to the ground. The final battle, involving a cast of hundreds – all of them played, of course, by one single, solitary man – is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I’m tempted to say that if you don’t go to see it, heads will roll. But they will, of course – even if you do.
Running Time: 1:15 (no intermission)
When: October 16 – November 2 , Thursday – Saturday at 8:00, special matinee performance Sunday, November 2 at 2:00
Where: Warehouse Theater, 1017 – 7th Street NW, Washington, DC
Tickets: $15 ($12 if you bring your Fringe button)
Call: 202-783-3933. For information, consult the website.