The Mad 7 - A Mystical Comedy With Ecstatic Dance
nytheatre.com review by Rachel Grundy
August 13, 2010
A compelling journey into storytelling, dance, and self-discovery, The Mad 7 is a darkly funny, sometimes bleak, yet ultimately uplifting play. Freely adapting from Rabbi Nachman's The 7 Beggars (written in the 18th century), playwright and performer Yehuda Hyman gives this old story a modern relevance, exploring a tale of faith from the eyes of a secular Jew (main character Elliot) living in San Francisco and trapped by his soulless job and daily routine. Through Elliot's eyes, we discover beauty, faith, and hope, yet without feeling preached to or lost in a "religious" story. The universal themes of this play are what ultimately resonate, not its cultural origins.
The Mad 7 follows Elliot as he journeys from a place familiar to many New Yorkers—the soulless gray of an office cubicle (albeit one on the West Coast)—into a lush, music-filled world he barely recognizes, guided by six people who tell him their own stories. Each is physically disfigured in some way—the blind man, the deaf Spanish woman, the lady with the twisted throat—and each is sublimely crafted by Hyman. His ability to play two characters in a conversation, jumping from the nervous, neurotic Elliot to an expressive Spanish woman who speaks both English and Spanish, for example, is impressive. A simple prop or costume piece is all that Hyman uses to create each character, relying more heavily on his physicality and voice. The only set pieces are a backdrop, painted to look like a brick wall, and a chest that serves as a bed, a chair, a table, a car, and a helicopter (yes, really). Simple lighting by Mary Louise Geiger and unobtrusive yet essential music, sound designed by Karin Graybash, highlight when necessary and fade into the background at other times, allowing the solo performance to be the star of the show.
Each of the six "beggar" characters we meet are unique and complete, serving as guides and teachers to Elliot, who seems so afraid to embrace spiritual self-discovery. Being gay and Jewish, he does not connect to the book he is told to use as a map (implied to be the Torah), but the beggars are from all cultures and walks of life, too. There is the Spanish deaf woman and an Ethiopian hunchback to name but two, none of whom seem to care about Elliot's sexuality or religious leanings. The journey they take him on transcends religious differences and instead teaches him to see the beauty in music, hope, dance. The machinations of a sinister figure, video projected onto the backdrop, tempt Elliot to abandon the quest he finds himself on and accept his worthlessness. Slickly dressed in a suit, this devil-like character (also played by Hyman) menaces the stage without ever setting foot on it, changing the atmosphere in an instant to one of fear and depression. Ultimately, Elliot must choose between life and death, between the light and the dark forces in his life, and become part of the story he is telling. The ending compels and uplifts, and makes you want to dance as you leave the theatre.