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These Seven Sicknesses

Sean Graney's cheeky adaptation of Sophocles' tragedies proves to be highly enjoyable.

Grant Harrison and company
in These Seven Sicknesses
(© Laura June Kirsch)
There's a fantastic party taking place in Tribeca right now: Sean Graney's These Seven Sicknesses, playing at The Flea Theater.

On the surface, the show, a 4½ hour marathon staging of the septet of extant tragedies by Sophocles, would hardly seem to be right fodder for a pleasant theatrical get-together, but given Graney's cheeky adaptations of the plays and Ed Sylvanus Iskandar's environmental staging, it's nearly impossible to not be swept into both the plays and the heady, enjoyable atmosphere that surrounds them.

Theatergoers will recognize the uniqueness of the piece as soon as they get to the theater, as members of the 38-person company (some dressed in Loren Shaw's costumes that have a hipster cum Ancient Greek aesthetic) hang in the lobby, casually chatting with people as they come in. The cast continues to engage with audiences in the theater before the show, and during the production's two breaks, when they serve a tasty dinner and later dessert.

The communal nature of the experience extends during the show -- intimately staged in a hospital-like hallway (scenic design by Julia Noulin-Merat) with audiences sitting in two rows on either side. At times, the performers address the audiences directly and conversationally, almost to the point of being one-on-one. At other times, the actors simply perch on the low dividing walls that help protect theatergoers from the blood and mayhem, so central to the plays, which include the familiar Oedipus trilogy as well as a quartet of less well-known works centering on events surrounding the Trojan War.

During the Oedipus cycle, Iskandar has elicited a pair of superb performances. Stephen Stout brings a terrific sense of arrogant laziness and smarminess to his portrayal of Creon in all three of the plays. In the final one, after Oedipus' sons have gone to war over his throne, both dying in battle, Katherine Folk-Sullivan gives a terrifically passionate portrayal of Antigone, who's willing to forfeit her life to see that one brother has a proper burial, even as she proves her felicity with a power drill as she builds a makeshift coffin for the corpse while wearing a full-length, heavily crinolined wedding gown.

As Philoktetes, who inherits Herakles' golden bow, is betrayed en route to Troy, and then, proves to be key to the Greeks' victory there, Seth Moore gracefully and compellingly charts the character's transformation from good-natured ally to embittered enemy to ultimately unlikely diplomat.

Equally compelling is Alex Herrald's simultaneously fierce and good-natured turn as Achilles' son Neoptolemus, and in five of the seven plays Tommy Crawford elicits smiles and laughs with his irony-tinged performance as "The Carrier," a scooter-riding messenger, who arrives with both welcome and unwelcome tidings for the central characters.

Michael Wieser provides the fight choreography that ranges from testosterone-driven fisticuffs between Creon and Oedipus (Jeff Ronan) to the brutal murder of Clytemnestra (Akyiaa Wilson) by her children Elektra (played as a tortured punk teen by Betsy Lippitt) and Orestes (made a kind of disturbed cherub by Erik Olson). The pinnacle of Wieser's work is an astonishingly brutal, high energy battle sequence in which a delusional Ajax (Grant Harrison) slaughters a flock of sheep that in a fevered, angry delusion, he believes to be his enemies.

All of the action is underscored with a sensitive soundscape from Patrick Metzger, and the choral interludes that separate each piece (ably delivered by a sextet of female nurses and a male orderly) encompass music ranging from classical arias to Paul McCartney's "Blackbird," providing an intelligent and emotionally-charged soundtrack for this fleet excursion into the classics.