When its cast catapults into full-throttle dance numbers, The Seven -- Will Power's hip-hop adaptation of Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes -- soars with exuberant street-smart flair. When the performers sing out their snappy satiric ditties, the show becomes a pleasantly nostalgic journey through African-American song styles. But when the proceedings are overtaken by extended passages of earnest spoken words, the heavy-handed writing and overwrought acting turn The Seven -- on a scale of one to 10 -- into a two.
The highlights of the production (directed by Jo Bonney and choreographed by Bill T. Jones) are the artful, stylized gestures that accompany much of the show's rhymed-verse dialogue, a biting scene that mocks politicians' empty promises (and resonates precisely with America's current political climate), and a gorgeous solo dance built entirely of yoga poses, performed by Jamyl Dobson in the role of Polynices.
In The Seven, Polynices (who battles with his brother Eteocles for control of Thebes) and Oedipus (the boys' father) not only appear -- which they don't in the original play -- but become developed, leading characters. It's Edwin Lee Gibson's satiny "gangsta" interpretation of the devious villain Oedipus that drives the show's dramatic action.
Though a richer drama in many ways than the commonly unheralded Aeschylus work, The Seven is marred by its naïvely preachy approach to layering issues of racial oppression upon the show's basic theme of fate versus choice in the determination of an individual's destiny. Much of what Power wants to tell us is extremely important and admirably socially conscious, but we've heard it all before. Had he employed more humor or cut back on some of the speechmaking, it would certainly have constituted addition by subtraction.
Sadly, while it contains numerous flashy elements, the total effect of The Seven is less than the sum of its parts.
Presented by and at New York Theatre Workshop,
79 E. Fourth St., NYC.
Feb. 12-March 12. Tue., 7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 and 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 and 7 p.m.