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Glenda Frank


"The Seven." Text/Composition by Will Power. Directed by Jo Bonney. Choreography by Bill T. Jones. At New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4 St., NYC. Jan. 18- March 12, 2006. 212-460-5475.

In celebration of Black History month, the New York Theatre Workshop is presenting Aeschylus -- in a high-voltage Hip-hop variation that makes the ancient tale as lively and accessible for grey panthers as for high schoolers. Make some room, "Rent." Here comes a phat rappin' cousin with impeccable credentials!

The story is a classic of Greek theatre and psychotherapy. Two brothers bitten by the gadfly of ambition forget their pact and their affection as they wage war over who controls Thebes. Thebes has been left kingless by the blinding and exile of their father-brother, Oedipus, who (in this version) lays a curse on his own children. As rewritten (books, music and lyrics) by Will Power and acted by Edwin Lee Gibson, Oedipus is more villain than tragic hero (costumes by Emilio Sosa). He is Fate itself as he looks down from the upper stage, talking doom to everyone. His nickname is Mack Daddy – a Hip-hop term for a ladies' man, and maybe also a reference to Macbeth. He is always bustin' a rhyme along with profanities, vulgarities and that N—word. The disapproving DJ/narrator (Amber Efé), who scratches up some potent sounds in her booth stage right, threatens to punch out his lights if he uses the word one more time. "When are we going to flip the record?" she asks him -- or the gods, or the audience.

"The Seven" belongs to the younger generation. At first it's a poignant tale about two appealing sons groping toward adulthood and a better life as they step over the corpses of their family history. Benton Greene and Jamyl Dobson, who play the brothers, have the sound, the athletic build and the moves. Their solid training in theatre shows through as well. Even in an ensemble this talented, they look like comers.

When one brother retreats to the forest, discovering peace in an ambiguous friendship with Tydeus (Flaco Navaja), the other, tempted by an ambitious Right Hand (Tom Nelis), his satirically named assistant, decides to rule solo. When word reaches the outcast brother, he springs into action and recruits six other heroes to attack each of the seven gates of Thebes.

The multicultural male and female members of the dancing/rapping chorus get their moments in the limelight. As they transform into dissatisfied young Greek warriors, they pump their muscles, chant their battle cries, and hype up the adrenalin of the play. Like Spider-Man, they are transformed by their unique fantasies and newfound superpowers. Pearl Sun's Parthenopaeus is among the most memorable: as sexy as she is fierce and fearsome. Lighting by David Weiner and movement by Bill T. Jones (an acclaimed choreographer and MacArthur (genius) Fellow) blend to create battle scenes that feel mythic. Power's score includes calypso, do-wop, R & B, funk, blues, and a stand-out gospel song, "Seven Against Thebes."

The scenic design by Richard Hoover is inspired – a modernized Greek theatre that is true to the ancients and the contemporary and that creates worlds on a minimalistic set. Projections and filmed scenes by five designers (Kelly Bray, Reese Hicks, Richard Hoover, Frank Luna and Robin Silvestri) are the changing background while the horizontally split stage – the orchestra and skene of classical theatre – is part of the star-turns above, the perpetual choral motions below, and the shuffle in-between. Director Jo Bonney has done himself proud. Shows like "The Seven" keep New York Theatre Workshop on the top of the must-see list of New York theatre.


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