By Mira Reinberg
How do words determine action? Even more fascinatingly, how do words perform the effect that will determine fatal action? Greek tragedy embodied the poetic quest to articulate the relation between words and performance in order to help us, humans that we are, explain a reality that is unexplainable through language.
Here is why, and in an unmediated way, Ten Thousand Things’ production of The Seven holds the audience spellbound from the start. The play is based on Aeschylus’ The Seven against Thebes, the third in a trilogy founded on the story of Oedipus. This is also the only extant play of the trilogy, and Ten Thousand Things’ adaptation written by Will Power takes us first to the previous plays, the ones that set the stage to the perplexing unveiling of the story of Oedipus and its seemingly inevitable tragic outcome.
The shadow of Oedipus’ (Bruce A. Young) famous punishment looms large in the lives of his two sons Eteocles (H. Adam Harris) and Polynices (Kinaundrae Lee). They will pay for their father’s sins just as he had to reap what his own father had sown in his defiance of the gods. In a touchingly human effort, the two loving brothers make a pact to achieve the edifice that human beings struggle for: they will have equal share of their kingdom, “one year, one year.”
Alas, there is an immediate inequality through time, since Eteocles is the first to reign and he refuses to cede the kingdom to his brother when Polynices’ term comes. An army amassed by Polynices and led by seven fearless captains marches on to Thebes. The end is both mythical and realistic: heed the gods’ warning. We moderns can feel free to fill in other entities for the Greek deities.
In the tradition of Ten Thousand Things, the play is performed within an arena, in full light, with minimal distance between the relatively small audience and players. The adapted text is a composition made of the ancient themes rendered in modern poetic verse – much of it sung in rhythmic rap tunes, and suffused with references to our reality: political, social, cultural, high and low.
Under the direction of Sarah Rasmussen, cast, text, and music merge in a beguiling performance that throbs with the vibrancy of human talent and dynamism, even as it renders palpable the forces that throw us into turmoil, compelling us to oscillate between worthy devotion to family and country and narcissistic ambition, between compassion and pride.
The omnipresent chorus is played forcefully by Katie Bradley, Aimee K. Bryant, Brian Sostek, Ricardo Vazquez and Joetta Wright. Whether chorus members or the seven captains besieging the city of Thebes, they perform with a tempo that is relentlessly spirited but also self-aware: the actors never tire of enacting the comical potential of hip hop and the cultural ironies weaved throughout the script.
And the curse? Have we more understanding of what is put in biblical verse as “Fathers have eaten unripe fruit, and the sons’ teeth are blunted”? This production lays much charge on Oedipus himself, for someone has to stop the chain that bequeaths sins by generation. It may very well be that the self-referential and ebullient qualities of this production will help dislodge one more link in this chain that steers our lives.
The Seven, text and composition by Will Power, based on Aeschylus’ The Seven against Thebes. Directed by Sarah Rasmussen. Sets by Stephen Mohring. At Open Book, 1011 Washington Ave S, Minneapolis, February 15 – March 10, 2013. Tickets at 612-203-9502 or http://www.tenthousandthings.org