Fringe 2015 review: "7 (x1) Samurai"

Fringe 2015 review: "7 (x1) Samurai"
Photo via DavidGainesPerformance.com

Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is the story of brave warriors with limited resources avenging brutal injustices. Armed with nothing but his body, vocal chords, two Japanese masks, a black kimono and white face paint, David Gaines accomplishes a mission no less noble and astonishing, as he single-handedly vanquishes the demons of bad theater and boring pantomime in just one hour.  

In 7 (x1) Samurai, Gaines transforms the cinematic classic (which was later adapted into The Magnificent Seven) into a solitary symphony of spoofy silliness and, in well-timed bursts, surprising beauty. Not only does he play all the samurai and the main brigand who has terrorized the villagers, but he plays them simultaneously with a physicality that will leave even the best acrobat in awe.

Equally impressive is the almost total lack of dialogue; Gaines opts instead for a hilarious array of spoken sound effects, including fake Japanese words, mumbles, grunts, whistles and sighs. (His hilarious “bompedy-bompedy-bompedy” ranks up there with Monty Python’s “two empty halves of a coconut banging together” among iconic horse-galloping sounds.) It’s little wonder the show was voted “Best of the Fest” in its last appearance at Orlando Fringe, in 2009.

Gaines says that to compare his one-man show to the source material is akin to comparing Bugs Bunny waving a baton in front of a cartoon orchestra to a real maestro conducting a Wagner opera. Well, I love Bugs just as much as the next guy (and probably more), but that description might give you the impression that this production – directed by the performer’s wife, Susan Thompson-Gaines – is a pop-culture nicety. Make no mistake: This is fine art and a stellar example of a classically trained performer at the top of his craft. Admittedly, some of his characterizations could be bit crisper, and a bit of the novelty wears thin just before the final battle scenes boost the energy again, but the list of performers who could do a better job with this material is minuscule indeed. Marcel Marceau and Charlie Chaplin, perhaps.

7 (x1) Samurai
David Gaines – Arlington, Va.
Venue: Orange
Length: 60 minutes
Rating: 7 and up
Price: $10 

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