Seven in One Blow, or the Brave Little Kid
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
December 5, 2009
If you haven't yet seen Axis Company's family holiday show, Seven in One Blow, or The Brave Little Kid—now in its eighth consecutive year at their welcoming, intimate space in Sheridan Square—well, this year you must. I admit to having put it off all this time myself, but now that I've seen this genuinely sweet, heart-warming, heart-filling hour of theatre, I suspect it will be on my regular list of December to-dos from now on.
The play, conceived and written by Randy Sharp and the members of Axis, and directed by Sharp, is based loosely on a Grimm Brothers fairy tale. The story begins with a kid, living in an apartment somewhere in New York with two oft-absent parents, who becomes inordinately proud after successfully killing seven flies in a single swat. The Kid makes a belt that reads "Seven in One Blow" and goes off into the world to have some adventures worthy of such bravery. These bring the Kid to such exotic places as a cave occupied by an Ogre that likes to kill people (and that keeps, as a kind of toy, the Scarlet Pimpernel); a kingdom run by a selfish Texas-accented and cowboy-hatted ruler known as "the QK" who charges the Kid to destroy the dragon that's menacing his land and also to make it warm again; and the forest dwelling of a witch who looks an awful lot like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, except that she can be destroyed by music rather than water. Each adventure teaches the Kid and the odd assortment of strangers that the Kid encounters various lessons about being kind, being tolerant, trying new things, and getting along. Eventually the Kid is able to return home, better for all of this excitement; and the Kid's parents learn something, too.
Seven in One Blow never feels like medicine, not for a second. It's played out in the same eccentric, vaguely avant-garde, lightly multimedia, deeply humanist style that characterizes all of Axis's work (such as the annual Hospital plays, the summer counterpoint to this winter show). The show is filled with music, physical comedy, pop culture and music allusions for the grown-ups, and talking- and singing-along for the youngsters. The tale is narrated by a gentle, friendly hobo named Mac, who tells the story to us and to his pal Frankie while they try to warm up on a very bitter winter evening by rubbing hands and other extremities over a controlled fire in a couple of street trash cans. Mac, who is portrayed with charming avuncularity by Marc Palmieri (if a Damon Runyon or O. Henry refugee can truly be called avuncular), is onstage for the entire show, greeting the kids and other audience members as they enter the theatre and chatting with them until the show starts, and again after it's over. He is joined by other cast and crew members to give out candy during the after-show.
Palmieri anchors Seven in One Blow, but the Axis Company ensemble members play their various roles to the hilt. If you're a fan of the troupe, then you'll know what a treat it is to get to see Laurie Kilmartin play "A Pea," Brian Barnhart take on the Pimpernel, David Crabb portray the weirdly ambisexual "QK," and, perhaps most memorably, Edgar Oliver essay the role of December. Others in the company include Spencer Aste as A Witch, Regina Betancourt as Frankie, Jim Sterling as the Ogre, Britt Genelin as QK's daughter, Princess Fartina, and Marlene Berner as Snowflake. Lynn Mancinelli is terrific as the Kid, conveying the whirling conflicts of being not yet grown up with earnestness and vulnerability and without being cloying or annoying.
Oh, and there's a beautiful, touching modern carol at the end (written by the alarmingly versatile Sharp), and there's an unexpected visit by Debbie Harry via video. And one more thing—the stage snow used in this show is the coolest I've ever seen.