Seven Deadly Sins
Time Out says
Off Broadway review by Adam Feldman
For theater lovers who have been starved for live performance, Seven Deadly Sins offers a measure of satiety. Meatier fare will have to wait, as this is not a full-course meal but a sampler of small plates: a collection of seven new ten-minute plays by different writers, performed in storefront windows in the Meatpacking District, with audiences seated outdoors and listening through headphones. Directed by Moisés Kaufman, the event has a celebratory feeling—everyone seems happy just to be there—and spectators are greeted with small glasses of champagne. It’s like a party where the guests all move from one hors d’oeuvre to another.
After a brief sojourn in Purgatory—where RuPaul’s Drag Race alumna Shuga Cain, decked out in papal regalia, offers a lip-synch of the Pistol Annies song “I Feel a Sin Comin’ On”—the audience is divided into smaller groups and ushered to locations nearby. Each of the show’s playlets has been “inspired” by one of Christianity’s traditional seven deadlies, and it must be said that some of them are more inspired than others; anthologies of shorts are nearly always uneven in quality, and this is no exception. But the brevity of the offerings ensures that even if a given show is not to your liking, another is just around the corner.
One of the plays is terrific: Bess Wohl’s Lust, which smartly turns the limitations of its voyeuristic staging conditions to its advantage. The setting is a strip club, where a pole dancer—played with an aerialist’s steely grace by the riveting Donna Carnow—goes through the motions of a highly demanding routine; the glass in front of her makes it feel like a peep show. Meanwhile, in our headphones, the audience hears her inner monologue, as delivered by Cynthia Nixon. At first, these thoughts are comically dissociated from the sexy moves. (It starts with a bored shopping list: “Eggs. Milk. Baby carrots and cucumbers, the little ones.”) But soon things spin into darker directions: pain, revenge, the weaponization of sex. Wohl keeps you off balance even as the dancer maintains her own with breathtaking control.
In Jeffrey LaHoste’s archly amusing Naples, a spin on envy set in early-18th-century Versailles, Caitlin O’Connell squeezes ripe juice out of her Les Liaisons Dangereuses–ish role as a woman of the world playing games with her husband’s vain boy toy (Andrew Keenan-Bolger). Also appealing is Moisés Kaufman’s take on greed, Watch, in which a financially overextended boor (Eric Ulloa) complains to his patient sister (Tricia Alexandro), while at their late father’s funeral, that the old man has chosen to be buried in a $225,000 Rolex. Although the staging does not quite exploit its full comic potential, the play has a pleasing Roald Dahl-like snap.
Ngozi Anyanwu’s Tell Me Everything You Know, a parable about the Garden of Eden, doesn’t have much to do with its ostensible theme, gluttony, but Morgan McGhee brings delightful comic precision to her portrayal of an Adam-less Eve hungry for knowledge. On the less successful end, the plays fall into obviousness. MJ Kaufman’s Wild Pride, about a trans influencer (Cody Sloan) caught up in the vagaries of social-media fame, and Ming Peiffer’s wrath-inspired Longhorn, about an Asian-American dominatrix (Kahyum Kim) and her white-supremacist client, deploy too-blunt dramatic instruments in addressing their sensitive subjects. And Thomas Bradshaw’s Hard, in which a woman badgers her slothful gamer husband into sex, is at once forced and limp; in 10-minute form, at least, Bradshaw’s trademark brand of flat provocation merely seems tired.
One has to admire the effort and coordination that have clearly gone into Seven Deadly Sins: David Rockwell’s sets and Dede Ayite’s costumes give a rich gloss to the production, and many of the actors—performing their roles nine times a night—find moments to shine through the glass. Just know, if you go, that some of the sins are more tempting than others. In this grab bag of iniquity, Lust conquers all.
Meatpacking District (Off Broadway). Conceived by Michel Hausmann. By multiple authors. Directed by Moisés Kaufman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins. No intermission.