Shuga Cain in ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’ (Photo: Matthew Wexler)
Fans are devilishly excited to experience once again what happens when actors and audiences converge in the same space. Bruce Springsteen kicked off Broadway’s reopening last weekend by reviving his Tony Award-winning, memoir-driven story concert at the St. James Theatre. But downtown in the Meatpacking District, where at one point in time, blood ran in the streets, a hybrid performance dangles the gnarly carrot of what lies ahead in the world of live theater.
Seven Deadly Sins, a collaboration between Tectonic Theater Project and Madison Wells Live, taunts with all of the vices we’ve been vicariously consuming through binge-watched streaming series, reality television and the political histrionics of the previous administration.
Seven playwrights each tackle one of the sins coined by the Desert Fathers, the third-century Christian hermits who knew even then that humankind was a motley crew destined for trouble. Moisés Kaufman directs the pop-up performance, which has taken over various storefronts throughout the neighborhood along with a shipping container with one side peeled away to create a makeshift proscenium.
Audience members, divided into three groups, receive a headset listening device. After collectively watching RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Shuga Cain deliver a PG-13 burlesque number and evening’s introduction, the clusters (led by enthusiastic millennial tour guides) rotate through the seven vignettes on Gansevoort Street and nearby Little West 12th.
These particular sins, relative to their authorship, strike various chords of authenticity, complicated further by the public nature of the performances. Wild Pride (by MJ Kaufman, inspired by pride) features Guru, a transgender digital content creator (Cody Sloan) canceled by a cacophony of characters (Bianca Norwood) begging him to “SAY SOMETHING REAL” as the unfollows diminish his influence. Watch (by Moisés Kaufman, inspired by greed) offers a needed humorous respite as siblings Leo and Vivian (Eric Ulloa and Tricia Alexandro) bicker about the whereabouts of their recently deceased father’s rare Zenith Cosmograph Rolex.
People are possessions in this world, too. In Naples (by Jeffrey LaHoste, inspired by envy), Princess Charlotte (Caitlin O’Connell) tricks her husband’s lover Philippe (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) into revealing his indiscretions and delivers perhaps some of the evening’s sharpest words of wisdom, telling the lad, “You young people think everything must be talked to death, when in reality the greatest comfort in the world is having someone not to speak to.”
But the evening’s two most thought-provoking works, Longhorn (by Ming Peiffer, inspired by wrath) and Lust (by Bess Wohl), strike jangly nerves not solely because of their content but also because of their context. In Longhorn, an S&M scene evolves into a terrifying hate crime, and in Lust, a pole dancer’s (Donna Carnow) stream of consciousness (Cynthia Nixon) comes to a chilling conclusion. In both cases, the Meatpacking District’s Saturday night crowd lingered around these more visually salacious scenarios. Citi bikes came to a halt. Tourists shuffled their M&M store purchases to quickly retrieve cell phones. Some — perhaps exhibiting the eighth sin of hubris, attempted to walk in front of the performances, creating their own kind of pop-up happening.
For better or worse, this is what happens when theater truly becomes part of the public zeitgeist and moves out of Broadway’s high-rent real estate. Except for these onlookers only experienced half the story, likely posting, tweeting, and livestreaming an unfinished narrative — one with a critical eye that asks why our culture continues to objectify and marginalize women and minorities.
Maybe among that crowd of passers-by, there will be one who asks themselves, “I wonder what they were saying?” And from sin will be born salvation.
Seven Deadly Sins
Through July 18
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.